And the Truth Will Set You Free

Posted by on March 12th, 2013

After years of working to protect the reputations (and sometimes egos) of CEOs, boards of directors and companies, it was refreshing to read the resignation letter of Andrew Mason, founder and now, former CEO of Groupon.  With simple and unexpected candor, Mr. Mason stated, “I was fired today. If you’re wondering why… you haven’t been paying attention.”  Was it shocking that Mr. Mason got fired; probably not, since Groupon (the Company, its CEO and stock) had long fallen out of the good graces of Wall Street since its IPO in November 2011.

The only surprise was that Mr. Mason admitted the TRUTH.  But even more surprising was the fact that the Company allowed this to happen.  In the world of corporate America, demonstrating a united front and adhering to the ‘party line’ is the norm.

While I know better than most that it is appropriate, for a multitude of reasons, that companies and their management teams go to great pains to take the high road, every once in the while it would be nice to be told the truth – the good the bad and the ugly.  This is especially true for shareholders who by virtue of owning the stock are entitled to know the truth.  But in the litigious society in which we live, corporations are handcuffed to make sure not to impinge someone’s reputation and incur the wrath of the legal community.

As the following real-life examples suggest, more often than not, companies and their outgoing CEOs say all the right things… when they probably wanted to say something else.

Party Line: “I believe that this is the right time in the development of the Company to transition to a new Chief Executive Officer.”

What they probably wanted to say: “I have been using the Company as my personal piggy bank and stealing from employees and shareholders for years.  A few weeks ago, I got caught.”

Party Line: “I would like to thank my fellow directors and management…”

What they probably wanted to say: “I’m the fall guy for an inept board, management team and poorly executed business plan.  I can’t believe that the board has chosen to throw out the only person in this organization worth his salt.  Thanks for nothing!”

Party Line: “I reached the conclusion and advised the Board that the time was right to begin a process to identify my successor.”

What they probably wanted to say: “I never would have reached this conclusion.  Are you kidding!  I’ve been making a seven figure salary for the past 10 years and during this time have yet to step foot on a commercial aircraft.  And you expect me to help find my replacement?  You know where you can shove it!”

Party Line: “On behalf of the Company’s management and board of directors, we wish Mr. X all the best in his future endeavors.”

What they probably wanted to say: “Just get out.  You’re dead to us!”

Party Line: “I am leaving the Company effective immediately to pursue new opportunities.”

What they probably wanted to say: “Opportunities.  What opportunities?  You’ve bloodied my name and reputation.  What opportunities await me?”

While speaking the truth is not always popular, in business, as in life, I think we’d all be better off over the long term if people were more honest with each other.

Similar to removing a Band-Aid, just rip it off!  Absorb the short-term pain and move on.  While the immediate pain might be excruciating, it’s certainly better than doing it slow.