Head of AOL fires employee during conference call

August 12, 2013

Recent years have brought us leaders who think it's okay to fire people by e-mail, by text and by phone. Former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said she was canned over the phone by the company's board, and just last month an entire staff of reporters was to be told the news of their job status via a phone call.

(Scott Eells/Bloomberg)
(Scott Eells/Bloomberg)

But it's not every day someone allegedly gets fired by phone while hundreds of that person's colleagues listen. On Friday, media industry sites reported that AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong ousted an employee of the company's struggling "hyperlocal" network of news sites, Patch, during a conference call with other employees. In the first few minutes of the call, which was intended to discuss Patch's change in strategy and coming job "impacts," Armstrong reportedly stopped mid-sentence to say to an employee "Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you're fired. Out!" according to a transcript posted by media blogger Jim Romenesko on Saturday. Armstrong then continued on after a momentary pause.

Unless there's another explanation for what happened--we reached out to Patch with an e-mail this morning for comment and will update this post if they get back to us--there's no small irony in the conference-call canning. Just before the abrupt termination, Armstrong was sounding the right notes, saying "I will take full credit and full responsibility for anything that’s not right at Patch. If the coffee machine doesn’t work, or a town doesn’t work — anything that’s going wrong at Patch you can blame me for it." And according to the Columbia Journalism Review, Armstrong also complained during the call that Patch had been missing "leadership, with a capital 'L,'" right before saying he'd join the management team again.

A good place to start with leadership, methinks, might be a little more sensitive approach to letting people go.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Why Men's Wearhouse fired George Zimmer

How to completely, utterly destroy an employee's work life

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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Jena McGregor · August 12, 2013