It’s great to hear that a CEO wants to be accountable to everything in the company from strategy to copy machines. But what you’re about to hear from a live recording of a conference call with AOL CEO Tim Armstrong may shock you. The audio, obtained by Jim Romenesko, records Armstrong speaking to the 1,000+ employees that make up Patch, AOL’s local news network.
Some background: During this call, Patch employees were already on edge. Armstrong had been overheard just the day before, during AOL’s Q2 earnings call, telling Wall Street analysts that Patch would downsize from 900 to 600 websites.
So with morale plummeting, Armstrong set up a conference call as a last minute attempt to rally the troops.
Within the first minute of the phone call, Armstrong says, “If you don’t believe what I’m about to say, I’m going to ask you to leave Patch…We have to get Patch into a place where it’s going to be successful.”
Next Armstrong appears to be traveling the high road, shouldering the blame for what needs to be “patched up” at Patch. “I will take full credit and full responsibility for anything that’s not right at Patch,” he says.
But come the two-minute mark and Armstrong appears to have changed his mind. He snaps at someone in the room. He says, “Abel, put that camera down, now.”
Then, without a moment’s thought, Armstrong says, “Abel, you’re fired. Out,” followed by some eerie silence. Listen to it here:
It turns out that Armstrong was talking to Abel Lenz, Patch’s former creative director. It wouldn’t have been so crazy to hear this leaked if Lenz had been disrupting the meeting like a tourist snapping photos, but Lenz supposedly always takes pictures during conference calls to post onto Patch’s internal news network.
From the outside it appears Armstrong picked an odd reason to fire Lenz without giving him much time to put down his camera, in front of hundreds of coworkers at that. Could something larger been at play?
According to Business Insider, after firing Lenz, Armstrong went on to “[crap] all over” Lenz’s big project for the company, Patch 2.0. Clearly Armstrong was not happy with the direction Patch was headed in. Just moments before firing Lenz, though, Armstrong claimed full responsibility for the company’s actions; so did he use the slightest infraction as an excuse to fire someone, or was Armstrong just that mad that he fired someone recklessly?
Do you think Armstrong was out of line by making an example of an employee during his “rally” speech? Or was he inspiring better work?