Did Owen Van Natta’s Social Skills Fail Him?

During a late afternoon meeting today at MySpace, chief executive Owen Van Natta, formerly the chief operating officer of Facebook, was nudged out the door. Just nine months after joining the company, he’s being replaced by Mike Jones and Jason Hirschhorn, executives who were brought in alongside Van Natta last April and who will now report as co-presidents to News Corp.’s digital chief, Jon Miller.

What happened? A News Corp. insider tells me tonight that the departure is a shock to no one for a variety of reasons, beginning with the near simultaneous way that Van Natta, Jones, and Hirschhorn were brought in. “Owen had little to no influence over that decision,” says this person, who adds that among Miller, Jones and Hirschhorn, Van Natta was “the odd man out” from nearly the outset.

Friction grew more extreme over time. “While Owen was off giving speeches around the world, Mike and Jason were doing the hard work,” say this person. “After a while, no one was sure what they needed [Van Natta] for.”

Evidently, Van Natta’s Facebook stock was also perceived to be an issue. “Whether or not it was a true conflict, there was the appearance of a conflict,” says the source, hinting that Van Natta “didn’t [feel the need to] work well with others” in part because he felt buffered by the wealth that being one of Facebook’s earliest employees already affords him.

Interestingly, the source doesn’t necessarily think Van Natta’s departure will make much of an impact on MySpace, except possibly to make the executive ranks less contentious — and even that’s not guaranteed. “Mike and Jason get along well, but they were sort of unified against a common enemy.”

Adds this person, “Whatever happens, fixing MySpace remains just an enormous challenge.”

Hirschhorn, MySpace’s chief product officer until today, joined the company from Sling Media, where he’d been an executive. Hirschorn has also worked as an executive at MTV Networks.

Meanwhile, Jones was originally hired as MySpace’s chief operating officer from AOL, which he joined in 2006 when his startup, Userplane, was acquired by the company. Jones is also an active angel investor in the L.A. area and was friendly with Miller both from Miller’s days as the CEO of AOL (Miller left in 2006) and during Miller’s short stint as an L.A.-based venture capitalist, working alongside Ross Levinsohn, who himself once oversaw News Corp.’s digital media assets.