AOL CEO Firing Employee During Conference Calls Raises Questions

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If you haven't heard the bizarre and awkwardly hilarious audio of AOL CEO Tim Armstrong firing creative director Abel Lentz on a conference call -- a call of over 100 people there to discuss Patch, an AOL rollout that Lentz was in charge of -- take a listen.

Armstrong fired Lentz in rather abrupt form in the middle of a conference call where he castigated employees to just quit if they weren't interested in the new AOL product. In what was meant to be a call to rally the troops, Armstrong came off like a petulant teen who demanded loyalty or else he would take his ball and go home. It was as strange as it sounds and the most surreal moment came when he told Lentz to put down his camera and get out of his office to stunned telephone silence.

For me, it raised a number of questions I'd like to share with you.

There must be more to this firing, right? According to Business Insider, there may be. Armstrong reportedly was unhappy with the design of Patch 2.0, which was Lentz's responsibility. Then again, he pimps in on the conference call like it's the second coming of the iPhone. As my dad used to say, if you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with bullshit. The way Lentz was fired was so surreal, it sounded like a skit from The Office. I halfway expected Lentz to fire back, "Fuck off, Tim" before laughing maniacally. Whatever the case, handling it this way was just stupid regardless of how Lentz had been performing.

Why does Armstrong sound like such a douchebag? I kept wondering as I was listening to Armstrong go on and on about how AOL is committed to Patch and how employees should pack up and go if they didn't want to be there, what is this guy's problem? He founded Patch, so maybe his vested interest in it has him on the defensive. But if this is his version of motivation for his troops, he might want to give Tony Robbins a call. Is this how all corporate CEOs talk to their employees? God, I hope not.

What the hell is Patch anyway? Patch is a hyper-local news service -- apparently -- that Armstrong founded and was bought out by AOL right after Armstrong was hired. For the uninitiated, hyper-local news Web sites are geared specifically for neighborhoods. In Houston, for example, it would be like having a site dedicated to news just for midtown, which I assume would mostly contain ads for bars and bikini waxing. The problem is that hyper-local news has never gained a foothold in the world of news and now Patch is cutting employees and scaling back. No wonder Armstrong sounded pissy.

Does Lentz get 100 hours of AOL for free as part of his severance? I assume his dial-up connection can handle it.

Most important, AOL still exists? Truly, what does AOL do? Apparently, they own TechCrunch and the Huffington Post (who knew?). They've also been trying to expand the use of online video advertising, something Facebook has also been toying with. I just thought AOL was for my older relatives who still have e-mail addresses they refuse to relinquish. You learn something every day.

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