AOL announced last week it would make major reductions to its network of hyperlocal Patch news websites, and during a call meant to boost morale AOL CEO Tim Armstrong ended up firing a top Patch executive.
The exchange was caught on tape, while some 1,000 employees listened in.
"Abel," Armstrong said, addressing Patch creative director Abel Lenz, "put that camera down now."
Then, hardly pausing, Armstrong said: "Abel, you're fired. Out."
Lenz reportedly had a history of taking photos of speakers during conference calls to post on Patch's internal site, but even if Armstrong found that irritating, it seemed an odd reason to fire someone.
But later in the call, Armstrong reportedly went on to "[dump] all over" Lenz's "Patch 2.0" project.
Lenz was leading a Patch redesign, brought onto the project in early 2012 from another part of AOL. Armstrong reportedly called Patch 2.0 awful, leading to speculation that Lenz's shutterbugging was just an excuse to give him the boot.
The following is a transcript of Armstrong's call:
There’s a couple of things I want you guys to realize and really think about and sink in, and if it doesn’t sink in and you don’t believe what I’m about to say, I’m going to ask you to leave Patch. And I don’t mean that in a harsh way; I mean that in the way of we have to get Patch into a place where it’s going to be successful and it’s going to be successful for a long time. There’s a whole bunch of towns that are going to be successful but we need the whole enterprise to be successful.
The first one is, 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. I founded Patch, we brought it into AOL, we’ve been very busy turning around AOL overall.
I don’t care what the press says, I don’t care if people leak information. I’ve already lived through that at AOL -- when I took over AOL -- so if you need somebody to blame for why we’re making changes at Patch you can blame me. I take full responsibility. …
I also want to clear up the fact that leaking information or anything around Patch isn’t going to bother me, doesn’t bother me. I’m not changing direction. When you hear about what we’re doing at Patch it’s very serious and it’s very forward-thinking and anything that happens around Patch isn’t going to change that direction.
Third thing is if you don’t use Patch as a product and you’re not invested in Patch, you owe it to everybody else at Patch to leave. If you think what’s going on right now is a joke, and you want to joke around about it, you should pick your stuff up and leave Patch today, and the reason is, and I’m going to be very specific about this, is Patch from an experience -- Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you’re fired. Out! [Momentary pause.] If you guys think that AOL has not been committed to Patch, and won’t stay committed to Patch, you’re wrong. The company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, the board of directors is committed, I’m committed. ….