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Why AOL CEO Tim Armstrong Fired An Employee In Front Of 1,000 Coworkers
November 7, 2013 10:10 PM   Subscribe

The Story Behind Why AOL CEO Tim Armstrong Fired An Employee In Front Of 1,000 Coworkers
posted by SpacemanStix (123 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Did I miss something about what happened to Abel in the months afterward, or did they gloss over that?
posted by crapmatic at 10:44 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am so happy I didn't get into the internet business.
posted by Teakettle at 10:44 PM on November 7, 2013


This story entirely fails in its apparent objective: to make me sorry for the man who still holds an extremely lucrative job, despite being a person who thinks firing someone in public is an acceptable thing to do.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:51 PM on November 7, 2013 [49 favorites]


Though not yet 40, Armstrong was already sensing how short life was. He'd decided what remained of his life was his most valuable possession.

At least the story succeeded in this objective: I feel sorry I read it.
posted by buzzv at 10:55 PM on November 7, 2013 [36 favorites]


A superficial elitist snob on top of everything else. Nice.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:56 PM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it's clear we're supposed to get a more balanced picture of Armstrong, and maybe like him a bit, but all I got is that he's tall, people like him, and he does the business thing.

I started scanning instead of reading, and then my mind wandered and I realized I couldn't think of one good thing that AOL had ever done. Now I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to it, but it's been around a long time and it's been involved in a lot of areas. I must be missing something; they must have done at least one good thing, right?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:59 PM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow. That was long. I really didn't want to know this person, nor feel any empathy for him. The article ends back at the beginning with the firing. Are we supposed to suddenly feel that it was justified now? It still seems like an insane act. Worse, it seems like someone who has failed to make sound decisions and is lashing out at others.
posted by greenhornet at 10:59 PM on November 7, 2013 [19 favorites]


Why AOL CEO Tim Armstrong Fired An Employee In Front Of 1,000 Coworkers

Because he's a douchebag and America's lenient labour laws make it possible to do so.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:01 PM on November 7, 2013 [141 favorites]


You could probably draw some connection (accidental or intentional) between AOL and firefox. So that could be a good thing.

Also, I will never want for shiny drink coasters.
posted by poe at 11:03 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


AOL did some incredible things bringing the Internet to the masses. They invested a billion dollars in dialup, and built an absurd caching layer for the net that remains impressive to this day (and was necessary in its day).

It's worth noting that AOL came from the previous attempts at doing large scale networking for consumers -- the Internet was not the first time this was tried -- and instead of hobbling it or ignoring it, they supported it with all their might. They didn't need to support the web, or AOL IM, or SMTP. They chose to. And so they survive, despite everyone's confusion. Because they were who brought a huge population to the Internet, the winning network, in the first place.
posted by effugas at 11:10 PM on November 7, 2013 [20 favorites]


So this is what they mean when they call people Monsters.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:13 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


With all the CEO porn articles these days, I'm surprised there isn't a RedTube clone filled with clips like Armstrong firing Lenz, Steve Jobs' greatest hits, Romney's 47% and DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS for those times you need a quick fix.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:16 PM on November 7, 2013 [31 favorites]


If only just for the "Local Executives want to fire YOU!" ads with stolen Jos A Bank model pictures listed as CEOs living in some town of 400 people near you.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:18 PM on November 7, 2013 [26 favorites]


Hmm. So it turns out that where I work now is part of the absorbed remnants of a company he started, so that was interesting. Does seem like a big old businessy person circlejerk though.
posted by Artw at 11:29 PM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Reading that just makes me wonder what it's like to give that much of a shit about work. I mean, I care about my job. I do it pretty well. But I'm never going to be one of those challenge-hungry advancement addicts.

I had to put together a presentation about my long term career goals last week. I really didn't know what to say. I had to make something up so I didn't end up simply saying, "Avoid unemployment until I can retire."
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:35 PM on November 7, 2013 [82 favorites]


Blend reminded Armstrong of his failure, so he had to go. Gee, what an uplifting story.

I wonder who the intended audience is for this, since so many mundane points are spelled out. Not people in the know, not Armstrong's peers. It's essentially People Magazine.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:36 PM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


This was an extreeeeeemly long-winded way of saying Armstrong screwed the pooch by paying way too much attention and treasure to his personal white elephant when he should have been doing the job he was hired to do: Run AOL.

And then the actual firing can be summed up as a petulant impulse. All in all, that article was about 3.5 pages out of 4 too long.
posted by barc0001 at 11:41 PM on November 7, 2013 [17 favorites]


Why Patch didn't use those bushels of money to buy up existing small- and mid-market newspapers and AOL-ize them is a mystery to me. There was no need to reinvent the wheel, but there's an ENORMOUS need for local news sites that aren't, you know, completely awful.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:51 PM on November 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


He said, "We're not hiring people from the Melting Pot."
Yeah, I'm done. Christ, what an asshole.
posted by NoraReed at 12:05 AM on November 8, 2013 [41 favorites]


Does Armstrong really not know that the word "patch" has another, almost perjorative sense in the programming community? Such as: "OK, you're right, my program is broken. But here's a patch."

Other senses that spring to mind: patched clothes (not even the poor in the US have these anymore.) Patch of weeds. I can't think of any sense of the word "patch" that leads me to think "cool info".
posted by telstar at 12:12 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


And then the actual firing can be summed up as a petulant impulse. All in all, that article was about 3.5 pages out of 4 too long.

But the most important detail was placed in the final few sentences:

Abel Lenz took a photo, something he had been explicitly told not to do two days earlier. (emphasis added.)

I've been fired on the spot from two different jobs. That's life. You take a company's money to do a job and you either tow the corporate line and kiss ass, quit of your own accord, or get thrown out.
posted by three blind mice at 12:14 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS

This is my earworm now

Thanks a lot
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:25 AM on November 8, 2013


then my mind wandered and I realized I couldn't think of one good thing that AOL had ever done.

I can name three:
- AIM still exists, and it seems (I'm open to correction) like they've eased off on preventing interoperability. Not bad.
- When Google Reader died, AOL Reader started, and although it's not as nice (and I ran into an annoying bug a week ago) it works.
- Editions for iPad seemed okay, but it seems to have silently curled up and died since iOS 7 came out, so I can't really count that in the win column.

It's worth noting that AOL came from the previous attempts at doing large scale networking for consumers -- the Internet was not the first time this was tried -- and instead of hobbling it or ignoring it, they supported it with all their might.

I remember that time.

They didn't need to support the web, or AOL IM, or SMTP. They chose to.

They did so or die. Don't kid yourself that it was otherwise.

That's life. You take a company's money to do a job and you either tow the corporate line and kiss ass, quit of your own accord, or get thrown out.

Everything that occurs, or has even occured, is life. Your statement that you figure is meaningful is in fact null. So what? No one disputed what happened -- what we dispute is what should be.
posted by JHarris at 12:39 AM on November 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


The article hints at a deeper reason for the firing. During the creation of the Patch 2.0 website, Abel aimed to please, incorporating all of Armstrong's ideas for the site--some of which probably should have been edited out. Why? Probably because Armstrong had a habit of firing people who disagreed with him. But in Patch's darkest hour, in the wake of the Patch 2.0 disappointment, Abel finally decides to disobey Armstrong, over something as insignificant as not being allowed to photograph a private staff meeting? Doesn't sound like the kind of person who has the company's best interest at heart.
posted by mantecol at 12:41 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am so happy I didn't get into the internet business.

You're right- the computer business is too competitive.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:51 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I worked for Patch for a couple of months in 2010. The managers all seemed like they wanted to do a good job, but all of their payment incentives encouraged doing the fastest, sloppiest work possible. I wonder if that came from Armstrong setting the tone, but money guys setting the actual policy.
posted by Bill_Roundy at 1:07 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


tl fuckin' dr

because he's an asshole
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 1:21 AM on November 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


This entire article was like reading a what-if, for that one ex-boss of mine, if he had ever made it to the top of the pile instead of being marooned in middle management. Ugh. As a ham-fisted attempt to explain why it was a totally justified firing amirite, the article really made Armstrong look like an incompetent, nepotistic asshole instead of just an asshole. (Which does paint Jeff Smith in a pretty good light -- maybe that's the secret true purpose of the article?)
posted by sldownard at 1:27 AM on November 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


The guy from Rancid?
posted by broken wheelchair at 1:44 AM on November 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


I started scanning instead of reading, and then my mind wandered and I realized I couldn't think of one good thing that AOL had ever done.

I am no sort of expert on the internet or its history or abilities or anything like that but I think AOL did a really good job getting a lot of people on-line at a time when it wasn't necessarily expected. Sure, it might have been a shitty, confined way to experience the internet but that's what a lot of people needed. People in my sixth grade class (1995-96) had AOL and used it to chat. My grandparents had AOL because the internet with training wheels was what they really needed. For a while, everyone got those fucking AOL disks in the mail. They were everywhere! AOL and, thus, the internet, became a thing everyone knew about and cared about! Sure, it might be a stupid fucking company and this guy might be a total and complete asshole (spoiler alert: yes!), but I think bringing the internet into the homes of the non-nerdy actually was a really big deal and a really good thing.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:50 AM on November 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've been fired on the spot from two different jobs. That's life. You take a company's money to do a job and you either tow the corporate line and kiss ass, quit of your own accord, or get thrown out.

Or, you know, live in a country with basic employment protections. It's not "life" that the US has such terrible labour conditions, it's a political decision. Don't present fucking your workers as an inevitability simply because you happen to agree with it.
posted by howfar at 3:16 AM on November 8, 2013 [59 favorites]


The guy from Rancid?

No one involved in Operation Ivy would ever tarnish themselves with something so awful as AOL.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:19 AM on November 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Why did I stop reading this article halfway through?

Part 1: I was born in a suburb of Seattle at the end of the 1970s. I learned to read at a very early age, and as a small child, I was always... [next 47 paragraphs omitted]
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:26 AM on November 8, 2013 [33 favorites]


So does "Business Insider" ever publish anything of interest or value? I wouldn't have even bothered reading this thread if I'd known, I'm certainly not going to read the article.
posted by epo at 3:48 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


By the way, if I were God, I'd hit Tim Armstrong with a magical beam that prevented him from ever again finding work that paid higher than minimum wage. I'm sure Tim is probably human and does nice things for people sometimes, but that Melting Pot thing? What a nasty, and really quite stupid, thing to say/do/believe. This is the kind of guy Jesus is probably thinking of when he talks about bringing a sword.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:56 AM on November 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


There's something deliciously insecure about a guy who graduated from Connecticut College in the early 90's insisting on hiring subordinates from 'top-tier' institutions. It's been regarded for years as the go-to school if your folks have money and you didn't get accepted to Wesleyan or Amherst.
posted by Kinbote at 4:10 AM on November 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


I hope he can patch things up with Abel
posted by Renoroc at 4:23 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


After reading the comments here, I'm actually glad I was not able to figure out what piece of unnecessary Javascript was keeping me from reading the article. So thanks, lame web author.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:28 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's life.

No, that's a thought-terminating cliché.
posted by kewb at 4:28 AM on November 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


The CEO is clearly an asshole. No doubt there.

But what is it with all the Business Insider articles getting posted here? It's always startling how many gazillion javascript things I have to allow just to see the text of their articles, and the quality is never very high. Maybe this comment really belongs over in MeTa, but it might be nice if the same way people say "SLYT" and "SLNYT" that we start flagging BI pieces as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:00 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


So does "Business Insider" ever publish anything of interest or value?

Well, editor and CEO Henry Blodgett just took time out of his busy schedule to post a rant against Bathroom Attendants Who Watch You Pee at fancy-schmancy restaurants, then felt bad about it when the restaurant owner agreed and said he'd get rid of them, which made the Business Insider editor and CEO scramble as he realized how awful this looked for him so he quickly posted a follow-up saying Restaurants Like Balthazar Should Absolutely Not Fire Their Bathroom Attendants — They Should Hire Them As Waiters, whose final line, "Here's hoping Mr. McNally and Balthazar do the right thing," led the restaurant owner to scornfully reply that he didn't need "the bullying intrusion of Mr Blodget’s high-pitched and high-minded advice" in order to know to do the right thing, adding, "What’s more, to receive such high-minded advice from a man who’s been charged with civil securities fraud by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is a bit like receiving a lesson in business ethics from Bernie Madoff. Of course, those who have had business dealings with Mr Blodget may say it’s slightly worse."

So, you know, there's that.
posted by mediareport at 5:03 AM on November 8, 2013 [66 favorites]


Bathroom Attendants Who Watch You Pee at fancy-schmancy restaurants, then felt bad about it when the restaurant owner agreed and said he'd get rid of them

Clearly if they're watching then they are not fast enough getting in position to give it a shake and zip you back in, so they need firing.
posted by biffa at 5:11 AM on November 8, 2013


BI seems intent on becoming the new BuzzFeed, only with all sorts of irritating adjunk (more irritating than BF, anyway). This article, unlike most of the things that people link to the site for, actually has quite a lot to do with business, although it's a shitload of inside baseball to have to wade through to find out why he fired the guy.

Speaking of which, although I'm not that sympathetic to the guy who got fired--your company is laying off hundreds of your coworkers, the head of the company asks you not to do something which is strictly unnecessary for your job, what do you do?--it's still a pretty damning portrait of Armstrong. He reminds me a bit of Jim Shooter, editor in chief of Marvel Comics during the eighties, whom he resembles somewhat; by the time he was fired, Shooter had become the most hated man in comics, even by people who admitted that he had some great business ideas.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:14 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tim Armstrong is the Dan Snyder of dial-up internet.

Also, Blodgett is an asshole who happens to be totally right about bathroom attendants. I've never been to a place where the presence of a bathroom attendant has been a net positive for me. I can wave my hands in front of the towel dispenser by myself, thanyouverymuch.
posted by schmod at 5:19 AM on November 8, 2013


I will feel terrible if there's a big derail about bathroom attendants. Sorry, SpacemanStix; Blodget was still on my mind when I saw epo's question.
posted by mediareport at 5:22 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


So many people are so awful, just awful. Seriously, the older I get the more a life of some kind of atheist "religious" contemplation appeals to me, because human beings are just no fucking good. I guess that's the paradox of capitalism - it's such an unattractive, banal system that only the shittiest people like it enough to rise high. I mean, what a clown! And the journalist who wrote this, what a clown! And the whole "oh, now he is feeling the pain of tough decisions" business, while he'll never be poor, uninsured or seriously out of work but has the ability to crush the life chances of innumerable economically vulnerable people. An evil clown! Jesus, he makes the evil clowns in Stephen King novels look like rank amateurs!
posted by Frowner at 5:24 AM on November 8, 2013 [37 favorites]


Whatever. Firing that guy was a baller move.
posted by Flashman at 5:33 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The melting pot thing is terrible - but this guys is hardly an outlier in the resume snobbery compartment. As for the firing. I actually suspect that you could fire anyone anywhere for doing something like that. Its just a lot cheaper and a lot quicker to do it in the us.

I'm more amused at the portrail of the Starboard guys.
posted by JPD at 5:47 AM on November 8, 2013


Hey, the article is not really about the photographer's firing, you know. It's just mentioned at the beginning and end of a long multithreaded story, as a framing device. And the author of the article actually is not a Roman emperor calling out to a coliseum, "What say you of this Armstrong, shall it be thumbs up or down?"
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 5:48 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


They should have picked a better title then.
posted by smackfu at 5:50 AM on November 8, 2013


The scandal isn't that he did. It's that he could.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:54 AM on November 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


The only thing shitty is how he did it. Not that he could do it assuming you believe the guy was expressly told not to take pictures the day before.
posted by JPD at 6:03 AM on November 8, 2013


The melting pot thing is terrible - but this guys is hardly an outlier in the resume snobbery compartment. As for the firing. I actually suspect that you could fire anyone anywhere for doing something like that. Its just a lot cheaper and a lot quicker to do it in the us.

No. To the best of my understanding of UK employment law, you can only be fired on the spot for gross misconduct (which is defined pretty strictly, and involves things like fraud, embezzlement, being convicted for serious crimes, coming in to work drunk or high, etc). Normal misconduct would be a cause for using a disciplinary process, which has to go through various stages of verbal warnings, written warnings etc - each of which contains provisions for helping the employee turn things around and improve behaviour. Only if you get through every stage and the employee is still misbehaving or underperforming can the employer terminate. Far more common would be an employer trying to persuade the employee to resign on their own rather than go through the disciplinary rigmarole. Up to and including paying the employee to go away "voluntarily".

Any system that enables someone being fired without warning over a minor misdemeanour simply because the manager is an arsehole who likes throwing a tantrum is a sick system with fucked up priorities.
posted by talitha_kumi at 6:15 AM on November 8, 2013 [33 favorites]


Abel's job was gone before he came into the room or even picked up the camera. Armstrong over compensated for investing belief and money into Patch well beyond sensible limits by making a show of being tough.

The article alludes to some fallout and embarrassment when the audio of the meeting was leaked, but I don't think I've ever read anything so neutral about a clearly asshole situation in my life. Ninety percent of the article reads like a biography of Armstrong's greatest hits and his admirable work ethic, but it makes not one iota of judgement for his callous behavior. At no point do we get a glimpse into the life and works of Abel.

Armstrong finishes the day with a secure job, which he began as a multimillionaire already, and Abel goes home. Armstrong bet the farm on Patch with other people's money. Apparently we should feel bad for Armstrong because his dream folded. Take more pictures, Abel.
posted by dgran at 6:25 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


AOL and, thus, the internet, became a thing everyone knew about and cared about!

In other words, AOL caused the Eternal September, and is clearly to blame for all these people on my lawn.
posted by Sequence at 6:27 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Any system that enables someone being fired without warning over a minor misdemeanour simply because the manager is an arsehole who likes throwing a tantrum is a sick system with fucked up priorities.

At-will employment is, more and more, the standard in the US. An employee must sign a document that says they can be fired at any time and for any, or no, reason.

The system is rotten at the core.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:28 AM on November 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Master Sun said:

The commander who erupts violently at his subordinates,

Only then to fear them,

Is totally inept.

The Art of War
posted by Gin and Comics at 6:31 AM on November 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


I assure you that the guy was not fired with cause and was given severance in some form. You also can't dismiss an at- will employee on the spot like that in NYS if you are a large employer.

Its essentially the same as what you would do in the UK.
posted by JPD at 6:34 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Normal misconduct would be a cause for using a disciplinary process, which has to go through various stages of verbal warnings, written warnings etc - each of which contains provisions for helping the employee turn things around and improve behaviour.

That's also how it works in most major companies in the US. There are plenty of immediate unexpected layoffs, but actual firings for cause are usually after a lengthy probation period of some kind, not firing someone on Friday over something minor that they were told to stop doing on Wednesday. In a lot of cases the eventual firing is a fait accompli and the employee has no chance of keeping their job, but at least it gives them some time to find work somewhere else.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:35 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why didn't he just delete the pictures? Why did he have to fire the guy in front of all of those people? Oh right, I remember, powerlust.

I'm going to pretend like my not having heard of Patch before reading this article is a giant fuck you to Tim Armstrong or something.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:35 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


While I was reading the article, this popup appeared: "Recommended for you: 7 Signs You're Working With a Psychopath."
posted by headnsouth at 6:40 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


They should have picked a better title then.

Agreed.

Another thing: As long as the article was, one backstory was missing: Melting Pot lady. Was she actually qualified educationally? What if a Harvard grad had hostessed at a melting pot for a couple months? Well, maybe that was too hard to find out.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 6:44 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am going to say this: I was very surprised to see such a sympathetic portrait of Tim with such excellently sourced quotes and thoughtful analysis from Nick Carlson and BI. They have been virulently anti-Patch since 2010, posting completely made up stories and rants from fired part-timers as if they were gospel. And they predicted Patch's failure as if it was a done deal over and over all along. So I was expecting this article to be a victory lap, but instead they seem to have been quite fair about the companies realistic chances and the struggles to actually create a decent product. The conclusion to the question asked in the title is: Because he was furious at himself and his friends for losing the gigantic bet he placed on them, and he took it out on Abel. I don't know the details, but I know Abel and Tim have talked since and it was reported that Tim apologized to him. Abel by all reports is doing fine. But does that justify the act at the center of this article? Surely not, but putting this widely reported firing story in context for a wider audience is a valuable service.

They did get some minor things wrong, but on the whole (in my only semi-educated opinion) this is the best reporting ever done on this subject. So kudos Nick, great job. I hope BI continues this trend of in-depth reporting rather than gossip.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:51 AM on November 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


No. The melting pot thing is inexcusable. If the guy thought his temp was good and competent it shouldn't matter what their educational background is so long as they were truthful about it.
posted by JPD at 6:51 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


One thing I hate about the culture of LEADERZZZZZZ we have in the US is how incompetent and unprofessional some of them are. I mean, this guy kicked employee morale in the teeth all the way across the organization, and made himself and the company look bad, because he couldn't wait 15 minutes to fire the guy in private. Well done.

And we pay them so much money! I mean, for what a CEO costs, we should get some platonic ideal of competence and professionalism. But we don't! So many of them damage their businesses by letting their sociopathic personalities shine through, or stumping for unpopular political causes, or any number of things. And they so often make obviously poor decisions! It's crazy - I agree we really need experts and professionals in these highly important roles, but so often I think we just get people who reliably fail upwards or schmooze better than anyone else. It's insane.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:55 AM on November 8, 2013 [15 favorites]


Can we talk about the Starboard bit? It was quite interesting to hear the aol folk looking to them for ideas and the activists being bereft of any ideas beyond "stop reinvesting, milk the dialup biz and return capital"

I'm actually bemused the aol guys didnt realize right away that's what they were after.
posted by JPD at 6:55 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, you know, live in a country with basic employment protections.

Not then. Born and raised - and twice fired - in the good old USA.

In Sweden that would never have happened - even though I deserved it.
posted by three blind mice at 6:58 AM on November 8, 2013


I wish Patch stuck around longer - ours started to slide after the first round of layoffs and totally tanked after 2.0. I enjoyed posting weirdness on the local blogger section, but after awhile I realized it was not worth the effort to write a long post only to have it wiped from the sprint page by spam from some intern marketing a tennis tournament 40 miles away.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:01 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The real question is - why did Business Insider fire the editor? Or if they didn't, why not?

BI's not the only site pushing out 'never mind the quality, feel the length' pieces these days, but it does seem to be on the end of a lot of links that raise this hack's hackles.

Make it long enough, people, not longeur!
posted by Devonian at 7:03 AM on November 8, 2013


JPD: It was a naked play for power--they didn't really have any fresh ideas other than breaking up the entire business and selling it for parts, they just were hoping to intrigue the other board members enough to get a Board seat, and once the patents buyout was an option they were placated by that instead. Pretending to hear them out was part of the game. IMO YMMV etc
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:05 AM on November 8, 2013


Let's see--he made two serious moral and professional errors that I saw--not reviewing "melting pot" lady on her own merits/resume and publicly firing an employee. He also moved beyond his micro management, learned to make timely and difficult decisions, created countless jobs for Patch employees, played an important role in Google's revenue growth, coached youth sports, helped during Sandy ( I know it was a good business decision and had self serving as well as altruistic motives) was generally liked and respected by those who worked with and for him. I admire him for his contributions to his companies (which have generated substantial wealth, earnings and employment for many) and find it human that he faltered. The way he fired the employee--tacky and distasteful--but the employee was an upper level executive who directly and publicly disobeyed a directive. I am very very sure that witin the middle and lower level ranks there was/is a well thought out disciplinary and termination process. What I find somewhat pernicious is the almost instant, and predictable, reaction of some posters--the knee jerk dismissal of the article/writing, Armstrong and the willingness to make such a quick assessment of his entire character and career. This is capitalism, and some times it is ugly and sometimes it creates opportunities, employment, hope, products and innovation.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:08 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am going to say this: I was very surprised to see such a sympathetic portrait of Tim with such excellently sourced quotes and thoughtful analysis from Nick Carlson and BI.

I didn't find this to be a sympathetic portrait of him by the end. I think it shows him somehow pulling something off despite his lack of actual business skill, and based mostly on luck, with the patent thing and the hurricane. An elf in a raincoat? Really? If it wasn't for the patent win, I think it's clear that he was steering a sinking ship, while the person who was attempting the takeover was the only one who actually did the math. You get the feeling that Tim isn't still there because of his skill, but because of the luck of the draw. It serves to reiterate the enduring question, for me: how does AOL manage to still be around? They manage to still be in the room, running on the reserves of their dialup empire, but they don't have the relevance that their ongoing presence would suggest.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:17 AM on November 8, 2013


JPD: It was a naked play for power--they didn't really have any fresh ideas other than breaking up the entire business and selling it for parts, they just were hoping to intrigue the other board members enough to get a Board seat, and once the patents buyout was an option they were placated by that instead. Pretending to hear them out was part of the game. IMO YMMV etc


Oh - I know what Starboard was doing. I'm more surprised that the AOL guys didn't diagnose that right away. Presumably the first two calls after they got that letter should have been their bankers and the their lawyers who should have told them the deal.

I suspect that 9/10 times Starboards plan is the right one for shareholders
posted by JPD at 7:41 AM on November 8, 2013


Fired like a boss. I never say "like a boss" and won't make a habit of it. I really wanted to comment on mediareport's links. Being of low blood I've only seen bathroom attendants at strip clubs and always figured they were there to discourage dudes from cashing out their spank bank and turning in for the night. The tips help incentivize an otherwise horrid position. Otherwise it's almost as bad as dressing up as Chuck E Cheese and let me tell you, I've been there.
posted by lordaych at 7:43 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The way he fired the employee--tacky and distasteful--but the employee was an upper level executive who directly and publicly disobeyed a directive.

Part of Abel's job was to document meetings and activities, as part of the culture. And the order was on the heels of Tim declaring he didn't care if there were media leaks. If you listen to the recording, he didn't even take a breath between telling Abel to put the camera down and canning him.

It's not like Abel had started shouting or causing a scene. It's not as if Abel had an opportunity to assess and comply.

Armstrong's management style is 100% bratty entitlement. It's not OK.
posted by mochapickle at 7:47 AM on November 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


He wanted it to be an elf in a rain slicker.
posted by eddydamascene at 7:50 AM on November 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hence the bratty entitled House of Cards episode 7 Pete Russo style not quite puff piece but really yeah a puff piece couched in fake thoughtfulness
posted by lordaych at 7:51 AM on November 8, 2013


He reminds me a bit of Jim Shooter, editor in chief of Marvel Comics during the eighties, whom he resembles somewhat

Wow, yeah, that's kind of a perfect comparison.

What I find somewhat pernicious is the almost instant, and predictable, reaction of some posters--the knee jerk dismissal of the article/writing, Armstrong and the willingness to make such a quick assessment of his entire character and career.

Yes, it's definitely that they're knee-jerking and haven't read TFA, don't have any other knowledge of Armstrong outside of what this article presents, and haven't put consideration into their opinions of the man or of the business culture he's prospered in. Otherwise that would mean informed people with well-thought-out opinions disagreed with your take on him, and that's just crazy talk!
posted by jason_steakums at 7:57 AM on November 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


Using the word pernicious to cast others' opinions as bad faith sophomoric assholery is pernicious. Having an opinion you disagree with despite RTFA is not.
posted by lordaych at 8:13 AM on November 8, 2013


I'm fairly sure Armstrong's income is such that he can afford to have thick skin.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:22 AM on November 8, 2013


Mochapickle, some of his decisions were "bratty" not his whole management style. Lordaych, you are right. not a good word to use. Jasom--steakums. You maybe right, I don't know. But posts such as the one that just popped up while I was writing this is what I mean That an act that is distasteful and mean spirited surely does not mean they should die in a fucking fire, especially when weighed against one's entire life.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:47 AM on November 8, 2013


We live in a culture where swaggering, sociopathic CEOs are celebrated like rock stars, paid sums incomprehensible to ordinary people regardless of their success or failure, and there's a coterie of toadying journalists ready to slob their knobs on a moment's notice despite all this. So no, I don't think a bit of heated hyperbole at their expense is out of place in response to a story of sociopathic cruelty to an ordinary person.
posted by jayder at 8:52 AM on November 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Regardless of opinions of the people involved in the story, I enjoyed the article as less of a morality play and more of an inside perspective on the way that big businesses sometimes operate. I always enjoy hearing the inside stories, even if I don't like all of the players involved.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:55 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm so sick of seeing people put into leadership positions because of their 'height' or 'athletic build' or ability to 'deliver stirring rally the troops messages'.
Give me a boring technocrat every time.
posted by fingerbang at 8:56 AM on November 8, 2013


burnmp3s: "Normal misconduct would be a cause for using a disciplinary process, which has to go through various stages of verbal warnings, written warnings etc - each of which contains provisions for helping the employee turn things around and improve behaviour.

That's also how it works in most major companies in the US. There are plenty of immediate unexpected layoffs, but actual firings for cause are usually after a lengthy probation period of some kind, not firing someone on Friday over something minor that they were told to stop doing on Wednesday. In a lot of cases the eventual firing is a fait accompli and the employee has no chance of keeping their job, but at least it gives them some time to find work somewhere else.
"

That's how it works in large companies if you are a full-time employee. This is why what little job opportunities can still be found are generally for contractors, because companies do not have to go through any process to get rid of a contractor. (Also, the companies do not need to provide benefits or any of the other being-treated-like-a-person "perks" you would normally expect from emplotment.)
posted by Karmakaze at 8:59 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


jayder--swaggering, sociopathic, incomprehensible, toadying, slob their knobs, sociopathic cruelty. Yes, it is a bit over the top.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:00 AM on November 8, 2013


/bathroom attendant brief rerail/

But he's right. Bathroom attendants are a terrible job, for which there is no justification. The annual State Fair in my town has a bathroom attendant. A State Fair! Elephant Ears, Turkey Legs, Barbecue, Deep Fried Snickers Bars, Quart-cups of lemonade, Bud Ice, Corn Dogs, Bratwurst with Sauerkraut, Corn On A Stick; this is the state-fair diet. Add to that, the people who eat all that getting on rides designed to provoke nausea. In the Faul during Flu Season.

You're going to make someone stay in the bathroom all day when this has been going on? And not give them a HazMat suit?

Having a bathroom attendant lowers the tone of the business. Makes it as classy as a State Fair.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:00 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lots of people have filters in their decision making process. Especially for those I know who are in high pressure, time sensitive environments I've found that you must have filters in order to get through your day. Now granted, I think that the example of Ms. Melting Pot is nothing more than ego and power, but I understand where he's coming from.

I know a lot of people who when hiring use a basic filter to cut through the noise. They don't have time for unknowns and if you have experience with a known quantity/known producer of people of the type you are looking for you use this filter as a way to save time.

I'm not saying this is a right or wrong way to go about hiring, but I get it.

I'm agnostic on Armstrong. Hell, this is the first time I'd even heard of him. However, his decision making process, especially in relation to his preference for those from the Ivy League, is not uncommon at all.
posted by tgrundke at 9:01 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Give me a boring technocrat every time"--there is a tme and place for most of us but "boring technocrats' do not bring about change and change is what keeps most of us employed, earning a living and enjoying ( and suffering ) what change has brought about. However, they are an excellent balance to the excess of change.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:04 AM on November 8, 2013


Give me a boring technocrat every time.

If we in our business were like that we would have been out of business years ago. Creative organizations, in particular, would die quickly with that kind of leadership.
posted by tgrundke at 9:08 AM on November 8, 2013


If I made it through the article successfully, it seems to imply that he made the Melting Pot comment also while she was on the phone as part of the meeting.
posted by tilde at 9:16 AM on November 8, 2013


I wonder who the intended audience is for this, since so many mundane points are spelled out. Not people in the know, not Armstrong's peers. It's essentially People Magazine.

Correction: Corporations Are People Magazine
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:17 AM on November 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't know that he is a douchebag or that this is some kind if failing of US business culture.

They had already warned Abel Lenz to stop taking pictures during the previous meeting then he does it again. You want Tim Armstrong to give a talk affecting thousands of lives while some guy is constantly snapping his picture after he was expressly told not to do so? He was clearly disrupting the meetings.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:19 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was an incredibly long article that didn't really actually explain why he fired the guy.
posted by brenton at 9:19 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


As an anatomy of what happened to/in AOL, this is an interesting article. But as a way to understand Armstrong and why he did the on-the-spot firing, this is useless.

Still, was overall a good read.

Armstrong is a flawed leader (like any one else). More importantly, the culture that he created didn't allow dissenting opinions and course correction easily.

I wonder how it worked in other successful companies. What happened in Apply when Jobs was wrong? How does Google deal with Larry or Sergey being incorrect about something? Or Are companies successful only when the leaders manage to make all the right bets?

Are there any good article to read about how companies prepare for cases when leadership makes a mistake?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:21 AM on November 8, 2013


I used to work with Abel and knew him pretty well and this story continues to blow my mind.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:42 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not saying this is a right or wrong way to go about hiring, but I get it.

Basically you're saying "I don't really have an opinion, but he had his reasons for doing it."

Yeah, we knew that already.
posted by jayder at 10:16 AM on November 8, 2013


You know, I have yet to read a single story, profile, etc., about any CEO, especially tech sector CEOs that don't make them come off as bumbling, sociopathic egomaniacs.
posted by stenseng at 10:23 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tough audience we are, my beloved MeFites.

I thought the article was fantastic.

Yes, it was a bit light on criticizing Armstrong but I think that's likely due to the obvious horrible outcome of his lashing out and publicly firing a loyal employee. From a psychological perspective, Armstrong's public firing of Lenz (eponyhorrible) is predictable as a misguided overreaction on Armstrong's part for not having the courage to take corrective action sooner. (To be clear, that bit of armchair psychoanalysis is not a justification.)

That said, the enormous struggle faced by executives engaged in pitched corporate battle is serious. Yes, it's not the same thing as the indignities and insecurities experienced by people who don't have the right pedigree to move to full-time executive assistant for $45K per year, but the struggles are real and how people carry themselves, the things they say, and the things they do matter and, from everything I can see, Armstrong's acquaintances and peers respect him even as they acknowledge his shortcomings (though perhaps not enough shortcomings for my fellow MeFites).

Refusing to hire someone for a stint at Melting Pot (or even a partial career) is depressing, especially since we can all create a narrative about the struggles that woman experienced in the aftermath of 2008. Absolutely, but those of us calling for Armstrong's proverbial head and raining insults down on same might keep in mind that detail is presented as a poor choice Armstrong had learned from and he modified his behavior so that his approval was not required for any hire below an senior executive.

I get that it's fashionable and righteous to declaim as hideous the behavior of senior executives who profit even when they fail. However, I think Carlson's article and Carlson's main subject deserve a more considered analysis than "this CEO is an entitled asshole and deserves nothing but jeers".
posted by mistersquid at 10:24 AM on November 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


I thought it was a good read, too. As CEOs and captains of industry go, I suspect Armstrong isn't the worst of the lot. And I can't fault him for being tall, handsome, athletic, super-confident, smart, etc etc (not a man-crush, honest).

Firing Lenz in that fashion? A dick move, sure. But it sounds like he made amends - apologizing personally to the guy, and I bet the severance was not intolerable. How many CEOs do that?

I dunno, I think business needs more Armstrongs who try to grow things, as opposed to Smiths who simply want to dismember something for a one-time windfall.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:53 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love nothing more than seeing the strong, forthright arms of commenters saying that we're being just a little too harsh on poor ol' Tim Armstrong.

Those are the arms assholes like Armstrong need to keep them carefully up and away from the melting pot.
posted by jscott at 10:56 AM on November 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


> I love nothing more than seeing the strong, forthright arms of commenters saying that we're being just a little too harsh on poor ol' Tim Armstrong.

Sorry. Let me get my knee a-jerking.

CEO asshole, amirite?

...better?
posted by Artful Codger at 11:00 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blend reminded Armstrong of his failure, so he had to go.

...or he reminded Armstrong of the future of journalism that Patch was not going to be a part of.
posted by rhizome at 11:09 AM on November 8, 2013


Let's see--he made two serious moral and professional errors that I saw--not reviewing "melting pot" lady on her own merits/resume and publicly firing an employee.

I would say that both of those are small potatoes compared to what the whole article is really about, the boondoggle that was Patch. Armstrong's grand plan for AOL was they should invest a massive amount of cash into his own startup, which was of course going to become a huge moneymaker that would save the company. It was basically as if Patch, a no-name startup worth next to nothing, had bought AOL to siphon its dwindling cashflow. Investors were tired of him wasting money on a project that would never be as successful as he thought it would be, and the only way he suppressed a proxy battle to replace him as CEO was by effectively dooming Patch by guaranteeing that it would be profitable well before that would be possible without crippling layoffs.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:30 AM on November 8, 2013


It's really too bad that he got so impatient with Patch and tried to make it everywhere, now instead of letting it grow naturally, testing and refining and working out problems with the business model along the way. He's not wrong that the problem Patch tried to solve is a problem that needs solving, there's definitely a niche there to fill, but it was too big too fast. Craigslist, Groupon, anything where they want to grab a ton of city/regional markets, the successful ones prove their value first, and then follow the demand into new markets. Patch seemed to kind of do that backwards.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:42 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah well, I worked at AOL through the 90's and some of senior management was straight up insane. Read "Stealing Time" by Alec Klein for some of the dirt. Armstrong is clearly an ass but he's a piker compared to some of the folks I dealt with in ad sales. It's one of the reasons I left the industry and am hard at work on my dental floss farm.
posted by skepticbill at 12:36 PM on November 8, 2013


I'm a CEO. I'm a big poopy jerkface.
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:42 PM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


You rarely get to be CEO without being (adjusts glasses, checks notes) "a big poopy jerkface." Corporate boards select for Ayn Randishness. That's why we can say things like that, almost a priori, and be right much more often than not. Then we see an article about a guy firing someone before a thousand employees and lauding him for it. It's not just sucky towards the guy fired, but it's extra sucky towards the people the display was put on for, because it says plainly you're next, unless. Fear will keep the employees in line. To hell with him.
posted by JHarris at 12:54 PM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Corporate boards select for Ayn Randishness. I actually don't think that's true at all. The last thing you want in a corporate leader is someone who actually thinks objectivism isn't horseshit.

In fact they are rare enough in the the public company world that the few of them that there are tend to be pretty well known - like the BB&T clown.

If they select for something at functioning companies it tends to be perpetuating the corporate culture - so you end up with lots fratboys who got A's in the easy classes. Companies that are shit shows are entirely random - mostly because its the boards fault for letting it become a shit show in the first place so you can't expect them to actually know how to fix it.
posted by JPD at 1:48 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I actually don't think that's true at all. The last thing you want in a corporate leader is someone who actually thinks objectivism isn't horseshit.

We know that, but everyone has their own perception bubbles, and corporate executives are no different -- worse, they are more blind to their own than the average. And they are more likely to be Randians than the average, because Ayn Rand told them all the kinds of things they want to hear: that they are objectively good, deserve the money they make, and the things they did to get it are just and proper. Which is why people like Armstrong get hired.
posted by JHarris at 1:52 PM on November 8, 2013


Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But seriously, why would you write this incredibly long, boring article that I am guessing is attempting to explain why Armstrong was pulling something nobody sees outside of The Apprentice, and then not even fucking bother to explain?
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:06 PM on November 8, 2013


Not sure why I read all the way through...other than it is Friday afternoon and I'm running out the clock instead of picking up another user story after finishing up the scripting behind the repository conversion and rearranging that I need to run sometime this weekend.

Guy is an admirable jerk. I couldn't live in his skin but I appreciate how he thrives in his ecosystem. I feel the same way about sharks and cockroaches for what it's worth.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:28 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


But seriously, why would you write this incredibly long, boring article that I am guessing is attempting to explain why Armstrong was pulling something nobody sees outside of The Apprentice, and then not even fucking bother to explain?

I don't think the article was really about that at the end of the day. I think he used a well-known issue to frame a discussion about deeper company politics that may (or may not) have been a contributing factor to the firing. Whether it really was at the end of the day he leaves as an exercise for the reader.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:33 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


It really is a good piece of reporting; the stuff on page 3 about the investment firm leading a shareholder revolt against Armstrong, mainly over the insane amounts of money he was dumping into his baby Patch with no serious revenue scheme in the works, is worth reading again:

But more than any other of Armstrong's decisions, it was his massive investment in Patch that most perplexed Smith. He and his team had done the math, and they couldn't figure out how Patch was ever going to be profitable. They had counted all the ads available for sale on Patch and multiplied that number by the rates AOL was charging. The number still fell short of the amount it cost AOL to employ Patch's 1,000-plus-person workforce.

And that was assuming Patch was selling all its ads. Smith estimated it was actually only selling fewer than 20% of them. He didn't think that number was going to climb higher, mainly because Patch sold ads to local businesses on a flat monthly basis. The price for most online ads is determined by how often they are viewed or clicked-on. Judged by those metrics, the flat rate AOL was charging for Patch ads was insanely high. Smith believed any sophisticated small-to-medium business would never go for AOL's rate.

The kicker was that no business had to pay AOL's prices, even if they wanted to get on Patch. AOL had sold some of its Patch ad space to Google for re-sale, and, using Google's ad-buying tools, any small business could buy space on a Patch site at a much cheaper rate.


It's odd that the reporter doesn't get a response from Armstrong to those sharply critical points. What is Armstrong's vision of the current path to Patch's future profitability? We don't know. That omission aside, it's a great piece with an unfortunately horrible headline that seems to be misleading folks' expectations so much that Carlson's detailed work is being lost in the conversation here. But the article's really solid and is exactly the kind of thing Business Insider should do more of.
posted by mediareport at 3:47 PM on November 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Guy is an admirable jerk.

I suspect we have a difference of opinion over what jerk means.
posted by JHarris at 4:08 PM on November 8, 2013


Armstrong spent his first 100 days at AOL touring the company's offices around the world and meeting with AOL's more than 8,000 employees.

At the end of his tour, Armstrong hosted a dramatic meeting at the Time Warner Center where he revealed his plan for the company. At the front of the room, there were two whiteboards turned away from the audience. On one, Armstrong said, were ideas that employees had for the future of the company. On the other, were Armstrong's ideas. He turned around the whiteboards. The ideas were the same.
all right boys, we need to tailor this presentation for maximum ominousness
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:43 PM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Firing Lenz in that fashion? A dick move, sure. But it sounds like he made amends - apologizing personally to the guy, and I bet the severance was not intolerable. How many CEOs do that? [emph. mine VS]

Maybe, or maybe not:

"Tim Armstrong has publicly apologized for the firing of the employee since then, but did not offer to reverse the firing or any compensation." [emph. mine VS]
posted by VikingSword at 4:46 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tim Armstrong has publicly apologized for the firing of the employee since then, but did not offer to reverse the firing or any compensation.

I do have a hard time balancing both sides of this equation.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:30 PM on November 8, 2013


This story seemed vaguely familiar. It took me a while to remember it: AOL acquired Compuserve.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:52 PM on November 8, 2013


I suspect we have a difference of opinion over what jerk means.

I think we're a bit closer that you suspect given your other comments here. The problem is probably more about how I used a shorthand colloquialism to say I admire how he conforms to the Platonic form of 'Jerk' than our divergent definition of 'jerk'. Whatever we might label him, you have to agree that based on the vignette in the FPP he approaches the ideal mix of objectivist conceit and narcissism that senior corporate management calls for.
posted by Fezboy! at 7:08 PM on November 8, 2013


I think you have to see Armstrong's side of the story. The guy has obviously been under a lot of stress. And he told this guy, Lenz, not to take any pictures, but Lenz took pictures anyway. So it's, like, totally understandable that he fired that guy. Who wouldn't have?

Also, he seems to be a really decent, ordinary guy, what with coaching his daughter's lacrosse team and all that.

And it's not like he paid a PR agency to write/place this article, so everything in it must be totally true and undistorted.
posted by sour cream at 12:38 AM on November 9, 2013


Fire me like that, and I'll pay for your trip to hospital.
posted by Bubbles Devere at 3:39 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know Abel. He was not asked not to take pictures and in fact was encouraged by Armstrong to get employees more interested in their "internal Patch," which was for company-wide news.

The whole thing was a show of power and scapegoating thing for Armstrong, who demanded that all his design quirks be followed then was unhappy when they "didn't work."

Abel has not publicly gone into any of this yet, either because he wants to move on or is considering legal options or both.
posted by blankdawn at 5:29 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


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