Pandora’s Long-Time CEO Joe Kennedy Abruptly Steps Down, Just As It Starts Making Money On Mobile

Hot on the heels of a relatively strong quarter for the streaming music service, Pandora has announced that its long-time CEO and President, Joe Kennedy, will be stepping down. In a statement this afternoon, Pandora said that he will “continue in his current role until his successor is named.”

Kennedy, who has been at the helm of the streaming music service since July 2004 and helped take the company public, helped Pandora build a platform that now has over 67 million monthly active listeners. In its earnings report today, the company also said that it now stakes a claim to 8 percent of total U.S. radio listening market share.

“As I near the start of my tenth year at the helm of Pandora, I am incredibly proud of the team and what we have accomplished in redefining radio,” Kennedy said in a statement today. “As part of our Board discussions of the road that lies ahead, I reached the conclusion and advised the Board that the time is right to begin a process to identify my successor.”

Kennedy’s exit comes as a surprise to many, and really marks the end of an era for Pandora. Oh, right, and it could put a damper on the 19 percent jump the company’s shares took in after-hours trading today. That being said, it seems as if — now that Pandora has begun to monetize mobile, exceeding its expectations for the fourth quarter as mobile revenue increased 111 percent year-over-year to $80.3 million — either Kennedy or Pandora is ready for a change.

The board’s statement doesn’t shed much light on the reasons behind Kennedy’s impending departure, nor does that by Pandora’s founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Tim Westegren, who said: “Over the last nine years, I have enjoyed an extraordinary partnership with Joe, working with him to grow the Company and build an exceptional team … I look forward to continuing to work with Joe to achieve our goals for 2013 and to help assure a smooth leadership transition.”

Not particularly enlightening, but it does raise an important question as to whether or not, as the board forms its “search committee,” the next CEO is in fact already serving as Pandora’s CSO. It will be interesting to see if Pandora turns to its founder or looks to find new blood as Pandora transitions into its next phase.

It also just so happens that Westergren will be speaking in Sacramento tomorrow at SARTA TechEdge conference, so we may learn more about the impending transition then.

Stay tuned for more.