Tim Armstrong CEO of AOL, make an unusual apology last Tuesday to his entire staff for the public manner in which he fired an employee during an internal conference call last Friday.
A recording of the firing was leaked to news outlets and caused a firestorm around Mr. Armstrong, who has been trying to turn AOL from a struggling Internet portal into a successful media company.
The four-paragraph statement, sent to AOL employees at 4:30 p.m. and obtained by The New York Times, said, “I am writing you to acknowledge the mistake I made last Friday during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz. It was an emotional response at the start of a difficult discussion dealing with many people’s careers and livelihoods. I am the C.E.O. and leader of the organization, and I take that responsibility seriously.”
The firing took place during a conference call with more than 1,000 employees of Patch, the local news service AOL runs for hundreds of towns. Mr. Armstrong had convened the meeting to emphasize the direness of Patch’s circumstances and prepare the staff for coming layoffs and management changes.
“If you think what is going on right now is a joke, and you want to joke around about it, you should pick your stuff up and leave Patch today,” Mr. Armstrong told the employees.
But right after that statement he can be heard reprimanding Mr. Lenz, Patch’s creative director, who was videotaping the meeting, then firing him.
“Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you’re fired. Out!” Five seconds later, to stunned silence, he proceeded with his message.
In his letter to the staff, Mr. Armstrong further explained the reason for the firing, saying confidential meetings should not be recorded and that Mr. Lenz had been warned previously not to make recordings. AOL said that Mr. Lenz would not be hired back but that Mr. Armstrong had contacted him to apologize.
AOL has spent hundreds of millions on the Patch service, but has acknowledged being disappointed with its financial performance. During a call with analysts last week Mr. Armstrong said he would sell off or seek partners for as many as 400 of Patch’s 900 local sites, a move that could result in hundreds of layoffs.
The extent of the layoffs are expected to be announced internally on Thursday or Friday.
Tim Armstrong Apologize Letter
I am writing you to acknowledge the mistake I made last Friday during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz. It was an emotional response at the start of a difficult discussion dealing with many people’s careers and livelihoods. I am the CEO and leader of the organization, and I take that responsibility seriously. We talk a lot about accountability and I am accountable for the way I handled the situation, and at a human level it was unfair to Abel. I’ve communicated to him directly and apologized for the way the matter was handled at the meeting.
My action was driven by the desire to openly communicate with over a thousand Patch employees across the US. The meeting on Friday was the second all-hands we had run that week and people came to Friday’s meeting knowing we would be openly discussing some of the potential changes needed at Patch. As you know, I am a firm believer in open meetings, open Q&A, and this level of transparency requires trust across AOL. Internal meetings of a confidential nature should not be filmed or recorded so that our employees can feel free to discuss all topics openly. Abel had been told previously not to record a confidential meeting, and he repeated that behavior on Friday, which drove my actions.
We have been through many difficult situations in turning around AOL and I have done my best to make the best decisions in the long-term interest of the employees and the company. On Friday I acted too quickly and I learned a tremendous lesson and I wanted you to hear that directly from me.
We have tough decisions and work to do on Patch, but we’re doing them thoughtfully and as openly as we can. At AOL, we had strong earnings last week and we’re adding one of the best companies in the world to the team. AOL is in a great position, and we’ll keep moving forward. – TA