AOL boss Tim Armstrong apologises for firing employee during conference call with 1,000 staff at Patch after public sacking goes viral

CEO doesn’t say if employee still has a job as recording of dismissal is leaked to blogs and news outlets

Tim Armstrong is known as a charismatic, impetuous CEO who fires from the hip. But the AOL boss admits he has gone too far after apologising to an employee whose public sacking in front of hundreds of workers has become a viral internet hit.

Mr Armstrong, a former Google executive, held a conference call with 1,000 employees at Patch, a local news network owned by technology giant AOL, to inform them that a major cultural change was on the way.

He broke off in order to reprimand Abel Lenz, Patch’s creative director, who had been filming his boss.  Mr Armstrong said: “Abel, put that camera down right now. Abel, you’re fired! Out!” After five seconds of stunned silence, Mr Armstrong continued with his morale-boosting speech.

A recording of the brusque dismissal was leaked to blogs and news outlets, unleashing a backlash against Mr Armstrong, already struggling to reinvent AOL, the former internet darling, as a media company following a decade of decline.

But Mr Armstrong, called the “king of cocktail-napkin ideas” for his habit of bombarding executives with impulsive schemes, has now issued an apology.

In a statement, sent to AOL employees, he said: “I am writing you to acknowledge the mistake I made last Friday during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz. It was an emotional response at the start of a difficult discussion dealing with many people's careers and livelihoods. I am the CEO and leader of the organization, and I take that responsibility seriously.”

Although there was no indication that Lenz would be spared the axe, Mr Armstrong said he had contacted him to apologise. The CEO added that Abel “had been told previously not to record a confidential meeting, and he repeated that behaviour on Friday, which drove my actions.”

Patch insiders suggested that Lenz had already been singled out because a “Patch 2.0” redesign which he spear-headed was perceived to have failed.

Mr Armstrong, credited with driving Google’s advertising sales business before taking over AOL, is known for his brainstorms and instant decision-making. Executives are given three to six months to prove themselves before being shown the door.

He once asked his team to track down every single couple that ever met via an AOL chatroom. Executives have tried to talk Mr Armstrong out of instructions to send gifts of gumball machines and motorised scooters to advertising agencies.

An Advertising Age profile called Mr Armstrong “a CEO who believes he can do most everyone's job - sometimes better than they can.” It suggested that “Just because Mr Armstrong says something doesn't actually mean he wants it to happen.”

“We had a three-strike rule with Tim,” said one former AOL executive. “He had to ask you three times before you did it.”

Yet Mr Armstrong is also said to be an inspirational figure, and “huge fun” to be around, adding to his unpredictability. He planted Kidrobot figurines in random spots around the company’s New York office to “let employees know it was OK to have fun again.”

Radical measures are required to turn AOL around. Despite adding the Huffington Post and TechCrunch sites, its web traffic remains relatively flat in comparison with four years ago.

In 2011, Mr Armstrong promised to invest heavily in local news websites represented but despite spending more than $200 million (£128 million) on Patch, the returns have been meagre and the service has been called a “ghost town” by former users.

Panel - Who’s sorry now? Corporate apologies

BP CEO Tony Hayward retracted his “I’d like my life back” comment after the 2010 Gulf spill, the worst oil disaster in US history. “I made a hurtful and thoughtless comment,” Hayward said in a statement. “I apologise, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Those words don't represent how I feel about this tragedy.”

Rupert Murdoch responded to a tsunami of hacking revelations at News International in 2011 by closing the News of the World and buying a full-page ad across newspapers apologising. “This is the most humble day of my life,” Murdoch told a committee of MPs but his contrition has been questioned following the release of private taped conversations.

In 2006, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologised, on Facebook, following complaints concerning the introduction of a new newsfeed stream and concerns over privacy on the social network. In an “open letter”, Facebook’s founder admitted: “We really messed this one up.” He went on to thank “all of you who have written in and created groups and protested.”

Recently-installed Apple chief Tim Cook was forced to admit that removing Google Maps from the list of default apps in the newest version of the iOS operating system and replace it with an in-house program riddled with errors, was a customer disaster. “We fell short on our commitment,” he said, directing customers to maps apps of rivals including Google.

Bob Diamond, the Barclays CEO who resigned following the inter-bank interest rate rigging scandal, begged the Treasury Select Committee for mercy. “When I read the e-mails from those traders, I got physically ill," Diamond said. “That behaviour was reprehensible, it was wrong. I am sorry, I am disappointed and I am also angry.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower