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Airbnb's chief financial officer departs amid tensions, leaving IPO timing unclear

Airbnb's chief financial officer departs amid tensions, leaving IPO timing unclear
Airbnb has been profitable since 2017. (John MacDougall / AFP/Getty Images)

Airbnb Inc. Chief Financial Officer Laurence Tosi is leaving the short-term home-rental company amid tensions and a shake-up in the senior ranks. His departure raises questions about the timeline for an initial public stock offering, which now won’t come until next year at the earliest.

The San Francisco company said Thursday that it had named Belinda Johnson as chief operating officer. Johnson, 50, joined Airbnb in 2011 as the first executive hired by Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s co-founder and chief executive. As chief of business affairs and legal officer, Johnson led efforts to work with city governments and is at the forefront of the company’s many legal battles.

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“The COO is one of the most critical positions in any company,” Chesky said in a statement. “Before the holidays, I made a decision about who was right for this role, and I’m incredibly excited to announce that we have appointed Belinda Johnson.”

Tosi, who was CFO at Blackstone Group and one of the most visible executives on Wall Street before joining Airbnb in 2015, learned of Chesky’s decision to name Johnson chief operating officer on Monday evening, said people familiar with the matter. Tosi had envisioned the role for himself but was butting heads with Chesky recently as he jostled for more control, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing personnel issues. Tosi told Chesky he would leave Airbnb later that night.

Although Airbnb grew up alongside Uber Technologies Inc., it isn’t known for palace intrigue. Chesky presented an amiable, mostly drama-free demeanor as he transformed his scrappy upstart into a global business valued at $31 billion. Also, unlike Uber, Airbnb has been profitable since last year, thanks largely to Tosi’s financial discipline. Now the two most valuable U.S. technology start-ups are without financial chiefs.

“I know people will ask what these changes mean for a potential IPO. Let me address this directly. We are not going public in 2018,” Chesky said in the statement. “We’re working on getting ready to go public, and we will make decisions about going public on our own timetable.”

Before joining Airbnb, Johnson served as general counsel at Yahoo and at Mark Cuban’s Broadcast.com. She was named to the board of PayPal Holdings Inc. a year ago. As Airbnb’s operating chief, she becomes one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley.

While Tosi was at Blackstone, Apple Inc.’s Steve Jobs tried to hire him as CFO early this decade, but Tosi declined the offer. At Airbnb, Tosi was seen by employees as a shrewd operator who failed to adapt to Airbnb’s progressive culture and follow Chesky’s grand ambitions, said three people who worked with him. Tosi, 49, was focused more on cutting costs and pursuing businesses that were revenue-generating instead of world-changing, they said.

“The 2½ years I’ve spent at Airbnb have been some of the most thrilling of my career,” Tosi said in a statement. “We achieved much of what I set out to accomplish when I joined.” He declined to comment on the circumstances of his departure.

Tosi said he plans to spend more time on his personal investment fund, Weston Capital Partners. Airbnb has hired executive search firm Crist Kolder Associates to find a new CFO, according to Nick Papas, a spokesman for the company. Ellie Mertz, Airbnb’s head of global financial planning and analysis, will serve as interim head of finance while the company searches for Tosi’s replacement.

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