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Management changes are difficult affairs. It's tricky to pull off a high-ranking executive's departure without damaging your stock.
That's why VeriSign (Nasdaq: VRSN ) shares are down 12% today. CFO Brian Robins announced his resignation after a three-year stint at the post. The parting appears to be on good terms as Robins stays on until the end of the month, and he leaves the Internet infrastructure player with an amicable, "I wish the best for my VeriSign colleagues."
That's a stark contrast to the inflamed departure of Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) CEO Carol Bartz or the scandal-tinged booting of former Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) chief Mark Hurd, not to mention the baseless axing of Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD ) leader Dirk Meyer. If there's any bad blood here at all, everyone is keeping a stiff upper lip. These days, that counts as nearly knightly chivalry.
Part of the plunge comes from the way VeriSign prepared for the announcement. The company canceled a couple of conference presentations, including one by Robins, fueling speculation that the company might be in the process of a merger of some kind.
But the bigger problem is, Robins' departure makes for some massive executive turnover at VeriSign. CEO Mark McLaughlin became an ex-CEO in August, forcing company founder Jim Bidzos to step back into the CEO suite.
Nobody likes to see two of a company's top positions eviscerated this close together. McLaughlin left to take the top job at up-and-coming security outfit Palo Alto Networks, but we don't know why Robins left or where he is going. More uncertainty, and Wall Street hates uncertainty.
Until further notice, VeriSign will run with an interim CEO and no official CFO at all. I don't blame the sellers for selling, because that's bad news any way you slice it.
If not for a recent love of special dividend payments, VeriSign shares haven't done anything for investors over the last year. Lacking leadership, chances are that it won't do much good in the next year either.
Add VeriSign to your watchlist to keep an eye on the management turnstile. Then read up on more-reliable dividend plays: