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Akamai returns to roots, taps founder as new CEO

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Eight months after launching an executive search for a successor to Akamai CEO Paul Sagan, the company tapped its c0-founder Tom Leighton for that role.

Leighton, who is also chief scientist for the Cambridge, Mass. content delivery network (CDN) provider, will start his new gig January 1, 2013. Last spring, Sagan announced his plans to step down as CEO at the end of 2013. Both Leighton and Sagan will remain on the board and Sagan will stay on as a senior strategy advisor, the company said.

In a statement, Martin Coyne II, the lead director on Akamai’s board said:

 “When we began evaluating our options for the next CEO of Akamai, our objective was simply to have the best possible leadership team in place for continued growth and innovation in the years ahead, and that’s what we’re doing with Tom’s appointment. We conducted an exhaustive review of the company’s strategy and opportunities as we evaluated a broad range of potential candidates. We are confident that naming Tom is the best and most natural evolution of management responsibility at Akamai.”

The company also promoted two executive vice presidents. Rick McConnell is now president of products and development and Robert Hughes was named president of worldwide operations.  Both will report to Leighton.

Akamai claims a roster of blue chip customers including the BBC, IBM(s ibm), Microsoft(s msft) and Hewlett-Packard(s hpq) which also resells Akamai’s CDN as part of its public cloud.

As the nature of web content  has changed, Akamai has had to adapt to handle more dynamic content and has made a series of acquisitions towards that end. Early this year it bought Blaze for its web site optimization expertise just a few months after purchasing CDN rival Contendo. No one expects that M&A  strategy to change.

Akamai competes with Limelight Networks and Level 3 in CDN as well as an array of smaller, more specialized players like Yottaa. Last but not least, public  cloud giant Amazon(s amzn) is both a customer and a competitor to Akamai. Amazon offers its own CloudFront CDN service but utilizes Akamai CDN to speed content delivery around the world.

Just a few weeks ago Akamai and AT&T inked a deal under which AT&T(s t) will deploy Akamai CDN servers at the edge of its network and resell Akamai services — in effect bowing out of its own CDN business.