AOL boss Tim Armstrong apologises to staff for public firing

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Thursday, 15 August 2013 - Matt Packer

Web firm’s chief executive sends company-wide email to explain himself after audio clip of tense conference call goes viral

TimArmstrong

AOL boss Tim Armstrong has been forced to apologise to staff in a blanket email, following his decision to fire an executive on a conference call with 1,000 employees listening in.

In the call – which took place last Friday, 9 August – Armstrong was discussing the future of AOL-owned outfit Patch, a local news and listings resource that has hit hard times. On Armstrong’s side of the call were around 200 Patch employees who had been asked to attend the meeting in person, among them the platform’s creative director Abel Lenz, who brought a video camera. Lenz had already chalked up a track record of recording and photographing staff meetings, and for Armstrong the latest indiscretion was the final straw: after asking Lenz to put down the camera, Armstrong fired him on the spot. A sound file of that part of the conference call subsequently went viral online.

In an email issued in the past 24 hours, Armstrong apologised for his actions:

“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 organisation, 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 apologised for the way the matter was handled at the meeting.

“My action was driven by the desire to openly communicate with over 1,000 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 behaviour 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.”

Armstrong concluded: “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.”

Listen to the key excerpt of the AOL/Patch conference call

What do YOU think?

Was Armstrong a victim of his own transparency? Or was Lenz out of line in the first place? Let us know in the comments below.

Image of Tim Armstrong courtesy of Albert H Teich / Shutterstock.com

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