Advertising giant Publicis Groupe SA has made an unusual executive hire in mid-2022. It was Leon, a lion-headed digital avatar who acts as a “chief metaverse officer” who guides clients through virtual realms that capture the attention of the real world.
His moment in the spotlight didn't last long.
Five months later, when ChatGPT debuted and Mark Zuckerberg renamed Facebook to Meta Platforms Inc., the conversation surrounding the Metaverse shifted to artificial intelligence. Leon and the other human cops were focused on the Metaverse, an immersive digital reality where people could interact with each other, but it quickly became an endangered species.
Executives leading Metaverse efforts at Walt Disney Co., Procter & Gamble Co., and Creative Artists Agency have left. Leon's LinkedIn profile (yes, he had one) no longer exists. Also, his website for the company has no mention of him other than his introductory press release. Publicis Groupe declined to comment on the record.
Instead, companies are rushing to appoint AI leaders, with Accenture and GE Healthcare also hiring recently. Some Metaverse executives are reinventing themselves as AI experts, deftly switching from one hot technology to the next. The average compensation package is well over $1 million, according to a study by executive search and leadership advisory firm Heidrick & Struggles. Last week, Publicis announced it would invest 300 million euros ($327 million) over the next three years in artificial intelligence technology and talent.
“It’s been a while since I’ve talked about the metaverse with clients,” said Fawad Bajwa, global AI practice leader at executive search and advisory firm Russell Reynolds Associates. “The Metaverse may still exist, but it's a lonely place.”
The executive changes highlight the fickle nature of technology trends and the difficulty companies have in separating hype from reality.
Most companies have made a significant transition away from the metaverse. The phrase was uttered just twice during S&P 500 company earnings calls last quarter, but 63 times in the first quarter of 2022, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. According to Russell Reynolds, in the same year, eight in 10 CEOs said they would hire a dedicated person with expertise in this area or expand their executive team's responsibilities to cover this area. At the time, McKinsey & Company consultants optimistically estimated it would be worth $5 trillion by 2030, but everyone was chasing a piece of the global business opportunity.
Apple's decision to call its new Vision Pro mixed reality headset a “spatial computing” device without any meta references is another sign of a “clear shift in focus,” says CEO said Nada Usina, co-owner and co-owner. -Founder of NU Advisory Partners, an executive search and advisory firm focused on boards of directors and executives. Microsoft this month overtook Apple to become the world's most valuable publicly traded company, thanks to investor enthusiasm for aggressive investment in AI. Even the meta Zuckerberg, who once declared the Metaverse the “next frontier,” has recently focused instead on generative AI after spending billions of dollars on Metaverse efforts with little success.
This has led some meta mavens to seek pastures new or recalibrate their roles. Joanna Popper, CAA's chief metaverse officer, left the talent agency after just over a year, after which she became a “board observer” at entertainment-focused AI startup Metaphysic.ai, which is affiliated with CAA. served as (Popper did not respond to a request for comment.) Pratik Thakar, who led Metaverse's efforts with Coca-Cola's interactive “Real Magic” marketing campaign in 2021, is currently working on the beverage giant's generative A.I. He is the global head of the company.
However, not all Metaverse gurus can follow suit. The skill set of artificial intelligence leaders is “completely different,” Bajwa said. “You don't just want to reuse someone; you don't get the deep expertise you want.”
At least one Metaverse executive has fallen victim to a corporate coup. Disney's Michael White has left the company after Bob Iger returned to run the Mouse House and fired White's Metaverse division amid an extensive overhaul. He is currently the chief product officer at Zoox, Amazon.com's self-driving car business. There is usually not much intrigue in the palace. P&G's Ioana Matei quietly left the Pampers maker last summer and is now driving innovation at the global agricultural company. Mr. White did not respond to Bloomberg's request for an interview, and Mr. Matei declined to comment.
Some Metaverse chiefs remain, including Yaiza Rubio of Spanish telecom company Telefonica and Nelly Mensah of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE. However, their expertise spans several emerging technologies such as digital ledger blockchain. And even companies that want to explore uses for the metaverse may now turn to consultants, says Alisson Robinson of Heidrick & Struggles. “We're still interested in consumer engagement at Metaverse, but not as an executive hire,” said Robinson, the company's global sector leader for consumer, technology, entertainment and media.
Jeff Wong, global chief innovation officer at professional services giant Ernst & Young LLP, said the unit's investment in Metaverse has probably been cut in half over the past year or so. “Some people joke about it, like it's over and dusted,” he says, but he's not one of them. “There's a lot of excitement about what the Metaverse can offer,” Wong said.
In contrast, EY now has two senior executives leading its global AI program, he said, ensuring artificial intelligence is embedded in every aspect of the business. “This is a big deal for us,” Wong said.