AOL CEO Tim Armstrong Apologizes For Brutally Firing Employee During Patch All-Hands Call

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After a call with the AOL-owned Patch team included the public firing of Patch Creative Director Abel Lenz last week, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has issued an internal memo apologizing for the action and providing some additional context (disclosure: AOL also owns TechCrunch). In the memo obtained from a tipster, Armstrong says that he has apologized to Lenz for the behaviour and that it was unfair to the former employee at a “human level.”

The entire memo follows:

AOLers -

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

It’s worth noting that at no point in the memo does Armstrong discuss Lenz’s current job state, so the firing likely sticks. Armstrong says the firing is a direct result of Lenz having exhibited this kind of behavior before, and being told explicitly not to, but other reports have suggested that he may have been on thin ice anyway after the Patch 2.0 redesign project failed to impress.

Patch is currently in a state of considerable upheaval, as employees wait to hear more about the “hundreds” of layoffs coming down the line. TechCrunch spoke to a local editor about the original conference call discussing the changes to come for Patch, and they expressed some skepticism about its ability to turn around, though he did suggest refocusing on the core Patch sites which have proven profitable covering specific areas could effect considerable positive change.

Patch was listed specifically as a significant factor negatively impacting the overall adjusted operating income of the overall AOL brand in its most recent quarterly earnings result, and AOL has promised to make Patch profitable by year’s end.