“You’re fired Abel” – then comes the awkward pause as AOL CEO jacks creative director in staff conference call

The media industry is a tough place right now. Many of its chief executives have become somewhat less humane. But the chief

Abel Lenz - his very public firing during a conference call has turned Patch's creative director into a celebrity overnight.
Abel Lenz – his very public firing during a conference call by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong has turned Patch’s former creative director into an overnight celebrity.

executive of AOL, Tim Armstrong, raised the bar to a new level when addressing around 1 000 staff on his group’s struggling hyper-local publishing business Patch. During the discussion he noticed that Patch’s creative director Abel Lenz was filming him – so sacked the senior executive on the spot: “Abel, put that camera down right now. Abel, you’re fired. Out.”

Lenz might have lost his recording, and his job, but he’s become an overnight celebrity. An audio recording of Armstrong’s address (embedded below) has been posted on Youtube. As it goes viral, as these things tend to do, Armstrong himself could well be joining Lenz in the job hunting queue.

As an interesting aside, Armstrong is also the boss of Huffington Post’s founder and CEO Arianna Huffington whose approach to staff relationships is, well, at the other end of the spectrum. She has “chill rooms” and fresh fruit on tap, encouraging staff to take it easy, sleep more and strive for greater balance in their lives. Perhaps the endless rumours of tension between the two of them are based on fundamental values – and closer to the truth than both have (publicly) admitted.

I’ve kept a watching brief on Patch which Armstrong and his partners started in 2007. While away on my semi sabbatical, the JSE-listed company I founded did a deal with local newspaper publisher Caxton which became a major and, subsequently, controlling shareholder. It was part of a transaction for my old business to drive Caxton’s Patch-like hyper-local publishing project, LookLocal. That idea, also, did not fulfil its original ambitions. Earlier this year Caxton paid a break fee and took the project in-house.

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