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Communispace CEO Diane Hessan handing reins to London-based exec

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 15, 2014 09:05 AM

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The chief executive who made Boston-based Communispace one of the pioneers in helping big companies build and manage online customer communities announced yesterday that she's handing over the reins. As of March, Diane Hessan will become chairman, and London-based Charles Trevail, a founder of a company that merged with Communispace in 2012, will be CEO. Trevail plans to move to Boston next year.

Hessan joined the company in 1999, a few years after writing the book "Customer Centered Growth." Communispace was acquired by the advertising and marketing giant Omnicom in 2011; it has more than 500 employees around the world. Headquarters are in the Atlantic Wharf complex near South Station. The Globe interviewed Hessan last month.

Here's an excerpt from the e-mail Hessan sent out yesterday:

This month, Communispace turns 14 years old Ė at least officially Ė and we are on an incredible ride.† Who could have imagined, at the turn of this century, that we would go from an idea and a small team to a global agency with 200 clients, 500 employees, a string of awards and accolades and a future that is bright?† There are many people who have been responsible for our success thus far, and at the top of the list are all of you, who have helped lead our company so well. †

As we look to the future, it is clear that our company is ready to launch itself into new markets, with new capabilities, new clients and new partners. Iíve decided that itís time for me to step aside and pave the way for new leadership. I am not leaving, but, as of March 1, 2014, I am going to assume the role as Chairman of Communispace. I plan on cutting back the hours I work,†spending most of them in the marketplace.† Charles Trevail will move into the role of CEO, and although he will start from London, he and his family plan to move to Boston in 2015. †

...Why am I doing this now?† The company is in great shape, and fresh leadership means fresh thinking, faster innovation, international expansion and more opportunities for all of you.† I am committed to staying to ensure a smooth transition and to help us continue to shine in the industry Ė and I am also committed to staying out of your way, as appropriate.†

Hessan took the month of May off last year to learn to play golf in Florida. (All Communispace employees get a one month sabbatical after ten years of service.) She told the Communispace newsletter in November, "I loved every single day of my sabbatical. But Iím definitely not ready to retire and hit golf balls every day." Hessan is on the boards of Tufts University and Panera, and she's a member of an a cappella group that sings about business.

"The top priority now is to do a great job with this transition," Hessan told me via e-mail this morning. "We have had an amazing year and this is a chance for big talent to move to new levels. I will be with clients more, in the marketplace more, etc. Then, who knows? I am not the retirement type."

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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