Is AOL's Tim Armstrong the Meanest CEO Ever?

AOL’s Tim Armstrong isn’t the Worst CEO Ever. I’m pretty sure the even more subjective title of Meanest CEO Ever would have to go to someone else, too. But last week, Tim Armstrong did something incredibly stupid, in public. Tim, this is not the kind of Influency you should be striving for.

In the midst of a conference call, AOL’s CEO fired one of his company’s creative directors. Out loud. Publicly.

Armstrong has acknowledged he made a mistake doing what he did in the way he did it. Courtesy of Gawker, here’s the email AOL’s CEO sent out yesterday:

OK, let’s give Tim his props: he apologized. He did it both in a manner and a voice that sound insincere, but at least he owned up to his mistake; you don’t do something that’s supposed to happen privately in front of others. Ever. Managers understand that.

Tim Armstrong is not a manager. Tim Armstrong is a salesman.

I’ve come down on Tim Armstrong before, and while he’s managed to keep the good ship AOL from capsizing, I’ll stand by what I’ve said before: AOL has no real business model and Tim Armstrong isn’t offering one that’s viable. But in the world that’s evolving around him, should we cut Tim some slack? His gaffe was every bit as bad as this one by Jason Calacanis, but worse by virtue of being conducted publicly. Does Tim Armstrong deserve a break?

No. Tim Armstrong is the CEO of a publicly traded corporation, and there’s just no way you do what Mr. Armstrong just did. And that doesn’t even account for the fact, contextually, that the man Tim Armstrong fired very likely thought he was doing his job correctly.

I’m ranting for a reason. What Tim Armstrong just did wasn’t merely very stupid, but raises questions about the nature of privacy. They’re the kinds of questions that are getting harder to answer every day, and as I’ve said before, the very idea of privacy is a relatively new construct; managing privacy isn’t just difficult; it’s nearly impossible.

And I’m going to stop right there. Because tomorrow, we’ll be talking about something that just happened at Google calling the very definition of the word influency ‘privacy’ into question.

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