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IBM is losing a top executive who led its efforts to apply artificial intelligence to health care and other industries.

David Kenny is leaving IBM to become CEO of Nielsen Holdings, the company that tracks media and television ratings. As senior vice president of cognitive solutions at IBM, he had been responsible for developing products in health care and security, among other areas, and identifying new areas of growth for the company.

His departure follows the removal of Deborah DiSanzo as manager of the company’s Watson Health division, whose financial performance has suffered due to a mix of technical problems and strategy missteps.


Kenny worked out of Watson Health headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., and helped the company attract new business within the $7 trillion global health care market, which is seen as a key area of future growth for IBM. The division sells artificial-intelligence-based products to help doctors make cancer treatment recommendations, match patients to clinical trials, and analyze data for drug companies and hospitals, among other tasks.

STAT has reported that those products have failed to gain widespread uptake because IBM has struggled to execute on its contracts with a range of customers. Its signature cancer product, Watson for Oncology, gave inaccurate and unsafe treatment recommendations while IBM was marketing it to customers around the world, according to internal documents reviewed by STAT. And the company has also struggled to fix problems with Watson’s natural language processing capabilities, a core function needed to read clinical records and deliver promised insights to health care providers and drug makers.


IBM spokesman Edward Barbini issued a brief statement on Kenny’s departure: “David is returning to his roots as a consumer media company CEO,” the statement said. “It’s not surprising that David has been heavily recruited for such roles, and we wish him the best.” Barbini did not indicate whether IBM will seek a successor for Kenny, saying only that John Kelly, another senior vice president at the company, will continue to oversee the cognitive solutions division, which includes the Watson-branded products.

Kenny will join Nielsen Holdings effective Dec. 3. That company is struggling to recover from a sharp drop in its stock price and is trying to refocus its strategy.

Prior to joining IBM, Kenny was CEO of the Weather Company and worked for a number of digital marketing agencies.

  • Why is it that STAT will try to bash Watson Health anyway it can? David Kenny leaving has little impact on Watson Health. He came in via the aquisition of the weather company. No one expected him to make waves in the healthcare sphere. Just because he was based in Boston does not mean this has anything to do with Watson Health. Get your facts straight and stop the smear campaign STAT!

    • Agree.. David Kenney wasn’t involved in Watson Heath at all. Watson and Watson Heath were until very recently two completely diff peer business units in IBM.
      Stat is on Google or Amazon payroll to keep their drumbeat going to buy time for those companies to get their healthcare businesses off the ground.

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