Originally sent to all Getty Images staff on Friday, March 13, 2015.

Jonathan Klein Getty Images
Jonathan Klein

Dear Getty Images family and friends,

Yesterday, I flew from New York to London to join colleagues in our original office to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the founding of Getty Images. 

I had always wanted to celebrate this date in exactly the same building that Mark Getty and I started what was then Getty Communications. We did not begin in the proverbial garage in Silicon Valley; rather, in grungy Camden Town where one could (and still can, I am told), acquire pretty much anything within just a few yards of the office and the Underground station.

For us at Getty Images, we have so many wonderful attributes, yet our ability to stop, reflect on the past, pat ourselves on the back and actually celebrate – well, it’s not something that we do often or at all. This year, on our 20th Anniversary, I am insisting that we break that habit and use the moment as an opportunity for a brief glance back, to take a deep breath, to look to the future and also to talk about my favorite thing – change.  As I tell everyone here, if you do not like change, relish in it and adapt well to it, Getty Images is not for you.

First, the look back.

Getty Images turns 20 years old today, and I can tell you with certainty that in 1995 when we began this journey, Mark Getty and I had no idea of the power that imagery would come to have in our world — nor what our place in that world would be. Remember, at that stage, great imagery could only be made by very few people with expensive equipment, and could only be used by those few who had a need to create something in print.

There was no Internet, no screens and no digital anything — just the technology of the 19th Century: film. In fact, this morning, I had a nostalgic look at where our first major investment was in the building: our in-house film processing laboratory, where the chemicals sat, and our awesome darkrooms, now long gone, where some of our senior leaders actually got their start at Getty Images.

Now, imagery is the language of our time; it is the world’s language and the way people communicate. It drives the most popular web sites and apps and, as always, it continues to inspire, evoke emotion, drive people to action, expose truth, and it is the primary means of making people sit up and take notice.  

I could not predict any of it 20 years ago. I also could not predict that we would drive every major innovation in the industry over the past 20 years, that we would create one of the world’s best recognized and most loved media brands and that, after all this time, we would still bestride the industry as the unrivaled market leader and the respected and most trusted source for visual content.

So, how did this all happen – quite simply, because of you, my colleagues, and our contributors, partners and, of course, our customers.

 Another reason, and perhaps, the most important driver of all this success has been the unique and special culture we have created at Getty Images. People always remark that they have never come across a place where there is so much passion, commitment and downright love for the company – not in a cheesy way, but in a way that is honest and real. People love it here and love doing business with us. We have so many long tenured colleagues and I want you to know that I mean it when I tell you that the only measure of success that I use is to ask:  “Is this the best place you ever worked?”  If the answer is in the affirmative, then we are successful.

Mark and I endeavored, from day one, to build a company that would stand the test of time, and that’s what we have done. We have incredible employees, a vibrant (some may say unorthodox) culture built on our leadership principles, a world-class brand, amazing and award-winning content and the respect of our partners and customers.  

Each person reading this message right now and every person who has ever been a part of the Getty Images story has had a hand in contributing to who we are today, and you all should feel very proud. 

I know I do. 

I am so grateful to each of you, for your camaraderie, your talent, your hard work and your friendship.

My philosophy as a CEO has always been that the two most important stakeholders are our employees and our customers. That and the leadership principles that I wrote all those years ago are the key filters for every decision I have ever made. 

This philosophy has kept me from becoming one of those CEOs who sits in an “ivory tower” doing “very important things,” disconnected from the truly important people who actually get stuff done. No way.  You are some of the most creative, innovative, irreverent, funny and quirky people I have the pleasure of knowing – the people who make it all happen, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all over the world.

So what’s next?

When we set out 20 years ago, I thought that I would do this job for a few years and then try my hand at something else. It was very clear quite soon that this was more than a job, this was more than a business — and Getty Images and its people fast became part of the fabric of me, in my DNA. This sometimes happens with founders, and in my case, it happened in a very big way.  In fact, my children find me and Getty Images inextricably linked – they don’t know anything else.

After many months of reflection, I made an important decision: I will not be that CEO/founder who stays too long; I am not that CEO/founder who thinks that he is indispensable or irreplaceable; I will not be that guy who people remember as the passionate and driving force but is no longer that anymore and is just going through the motions. Today I am still obsessed, driven, passionate, focused and totally dedicated to Getty Images. So now is the right time for me to begin a transition into a different role here. Yes, it is time for me to “kick myself upstairs,” in other words, take on a new role as Chairman, and find the next CEO to lead this company forward. To let someone else have the best job they could ever dream of; and for me to live and breathe the business from a different vantage point as we grow our business and consumer offer.

Working with the Board, our very supportive shareholders and some of you, we will find the right person to lead Getty Images into the future, now, while I’m still as fired up as I have been every single day for the past 20 years. 

In the immediate term, nothing changes. I will continue to be your CEO until a successor is hired. Once this person is in place, I will transition into my new role, where I can provide strategic direction for Getty Images while letting go of the day-to-day company operations that a CEO must oversee. 

We have the best senior management team we’ve ever had, and our brand has never been more respected.  We are clear on our strategy and are poised to take advantage of opportunities in areas where we have only scratched the surface of what is possible. 

Each and every one of you has my enduring gratitude for all you have contributed to making Getty Images the company I love and the defining experience of my professional life.

Many of you may be shocked by this change, but we are Getty Images – we have done shocking and surprising things throughout our history and will continue to do so. We disrupt. We innovate. We move the world with images. 

We were built on continuous transformation. On our anniversary, this is the moment to do it again.

Jonathan Klein