Shock AOL firing rattles staff

By Pat Pilcher

Straight from the CEO's handbook of how not to motivate employees comes this:
Duing a recent conference call to announce a round of redundancies, Tim Armstrong, chief executive of AOL delivered a stunning verbal outburst, firing a creative director who was photographing him.

The outburst happened abruptly as Armstrong was ironically reassuring rattled Patch employees that AOL was committed to them after announcing layoffs.

According to some of the many employees listening in, Armstrong was heard shouting : "Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you're fired. Out!"

Armstrong's outburst was recorded and uploaded to SoundCloud.

Further adding to an already surreal situation, Armstrong was said to have then carried on as if nothing had happened, continuing to assure shocked staff that AOL really cares.

Patch staff were said to already be somewhat demoralised as AOL had announced plans to close, sell or find partners for nearly a third of its Patch.com local news websites last week. In a recent analyst call, Armstrong had said that of 900 or so Patch sites in the US, at least 300 were unlikely to attract enough traffic or revenue to cover their costs.

Ironically, Armstrong was also one of the original founders of Patch and launched it along with Warren Webster and Jon Brod in 2007 after being frustrated with lack of online information in the small Connecticut town where he lived. In 2009 Patch was bought for US$7million by AOL who was seeking to move beyond their dial up roots. Shortly after the acquisition Armstrong became CEO of AOL.

The fortunes of news media and content business are closely aligned with the calibre of people they hire and retain. It'd be fair to assume that employee engagement and staff retention at Patch was probably low before Armstrong's shock sacking of Abel Lenz, but now it is most likely rock bottom.

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