If he’s anything, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is a world-class smooth talker.
So it came as a surprise to many when, last Tuesday, at a breakfast held at brand consultants Wolf Olins, Tim opened his mouth and figuratively wedged one of his own shiny dress shoes inside.
He trashed AOL (AOL) employees in public, calling their work below par.
Here’s the exact foot-in-mouth moment, as first described by Econsultancy’s Meagan Keane:
[AOL Freelancer platform] Seed set out to interview and feature all 2000 bands performing at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas this month. But five hours before launch, the Seed site was a disaster.
“I went onto the SxSW site and I was horrified,” says CEO Tim Armstrong. “The employees working on the site came back to the office and worked overnight to get it up to speed. But the bigger problem was that they thought it was ready to go live at all. It wasn’t ready.”
“I shouldn’t be the one to catch that issue,” says Armstrong. “As a company we didn’t have a bar that we set. If you talked to people at our company, they’d say they’re doing A work. But I went to the site and realised, their expectation and consumer expectation … was different.”
Obviously, it’s very rare for a CEO to publicly trash his own employees the way Tim did last Tuesday. The reason it’s rare is that it’s not very smart. It kills morale.
After watching his comments zip around the media for 48 hours, Tim finally realised his mistake and, at around 11 A.M. on Thursday morning, sent an Outlook meeting invitation to the AOL Media people based in New York — the people Tim had trashed in public.
That afternoon, Tim and about 250 of AOL’s journalists and editors met in a public space on the fifth floor of the company’s New York headquarters on 9th and Broadway.
The editors sitting in rows of chairs, Tim walked to the front and picked up a microphone. He talked for about 15 minutes. Earlier, we reported that Tim said Megan Keane misquoted him. Another source says that’s not correct.
A source who was in the room tells us Tim didn’t “bullshit” and that he was “head-on” about his mistake. He said something like, “I said that the SXSW thing was crap because it was crap. My mistake in this was in coming to the press with this and not coming to you guys.”
When he was done talking Tim passed the microphone around the room. He took some “pretty tough” questions, answering them in “a fairly sophisticated way” that “was pretty reassuring.”
One editor used a complicated metaphor somehow involving a shower handle to ask a question which basically boiled down to: “Why do we writers have to deal with so much bureaucracy and bullshit?”
Tim answered, “You guys, the people who create the content and the people who sell the ads, they are the ones everyone else at AOL works for including me.”
Our source says, “I feel like people left that meeting feeling pretty good.”
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