AOL's Tim Armstrong: I 'Acted Too Quickly' When Firing an Employee During a Conference Call

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Tim Armstrong

Nearly 1 million have heard audio of the firing, thanks to a blogger who posted it online.

AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong told employees he made a "mistake" in firing an employee during a conference call Friday, audio of which has been heard online by nearly 1 million people and counting.

In an e-mail to AOL employees obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Armstrong wrote, "It was an emotional response at the start of a difficult discussion dealing with many people's careers and livelihoods."

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Armstrong was speaking to 1,000 employees of Patch, an AOL-owned local news network, when he hastily fired Abel Lenz, the service's creative director, because he was snapping photos during the meeting.

Audio posted on the Internet by media blogger Jim Romenesko reveals a clearly impatient Armstrong, in the midst of explaining why some changes -- perhaps layoffs -- were necessary at Patch, being distracted by Lenz and then firing him on the spot.

"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!"

AUDIO: Listen to AOL's Tim Armstrong Fire Someone During Conference Call

By Monday, 600,000 people had listened to the audio that Romenesko posted, and the number swelled to more than 900,000 on Tuesday.

Here's the entire text of the e-mail Armstrong sent to AOL employees Tuesday:

AOLers –

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. We talk a lot about accountability and I am accountable for the way I handled the situation, and at a human level it was unfair to Abel. I’ve communicated to him directly and apologized for the way the matter was handled at the meeting.

My action was driven by the desire to openly communicate with over a thousand Patch employees across the US. The meeting on Friday was the second all-hands we had run that week and people came to Friday's meeting knowing we would be openly discussing some of the potential changes needed at Patch. As you know, I am a firm believer in open meetings, open Q&A, and this level of transparency requires trust across AOL. Internal meetings of a confidential nature should not be filmed or recorded so that our employees can feel free to discuss all topics openly. Abel had been told previously not to record a confidential meeting, and he repeated that behavior on Friday, which drove my actions.

We have been through many difficult situations in turning around AOL and I have done my best to make the best decisions in the long-term interest of the employees and the company. On Friday I acted too quickly and I learned a tremendous lesson and I wanted you to hear that directly from me.

We have tough decisions and work to do on Patch, but we're doing them thoughtfully and as openly as we can. At AOL, we had strong earnings last week and we’re adding one of the best companies in the world to the team. AOL is in a great position, and we’ll keep moving forward.  – TA