When AOL’s CEO Tim Armstrong fired an employee publicly last summer, we asked: Is Tim Armstrong the Worst CEO Ever? And while worse examples of CEO bad behavior exist, Tim Armstrong felt then and has felt for a long time like the wrong guy to run AOL.
So something we saw last week was just the latest example of how bad a CEO Tim Armstrong makes.
In case you’ve missed it, AOL made a change to their 401(k) employee retirement account program, deciding to make a single contribution each year rather than depositing money in employee accounts each pay period. It’s an interesting financial move that amounts to a lowering of benefits; AOL holds onto for a while longer—and thus keeps using—money they’d otherwise be doling out over time, and also avoids ever giving out that money to employees who leave before the annual distribution happens. AOL isn’t the first company to do this, and I’m going to avoid judging the move itself too harshly; it beats the heck out of AOL discontinuing 401(k) contributions altogether.
But then Tim Armstrong spoke about the move—publicly—in a way that almost felt as though he was worried that his Worst CEO Ever title might be slipping away, blaming AOL’s benefits change on a couple of million dollars of expenses that AOL’s generosity had forced the company to absorb because of benefits paid on behalf of unhealthy children. Ignoring the potential legal issues related to the privacy of medical information that Armstrong opened up with the gaffe, and assuming that his insensitivity is unrelated to Tim Armstrong’s single-guy life status, this leaves just one very simple issue.
Tim Armstrong Has a Problem Keeping His Foot Out Of His Mouth
And that’s not a quality AOL or anyone else needs in a CEO.
So ignore my rhetoric; it doesn’t matter whether Tim Armstrong is specifically the worst CEO ever, or even the meanest CEO. Tim Armstrong, who has now reversed AOL’s shortsighted 401(k) program change, is simply not the right guy to be a CEO. Armstrong has the pedigree of a tremendous salesperson, but the skills that salespeople possess are just part of the broader skill set that CEOs need to deal with the reality of managing a company.
I’ve been watching Tim Armstrong since he became AOL’s CEO in 2009. I owned a small piece of AOL when it went public in 1992, and watching AOL’s metamorphosis over the years has fascinated me. And despite the brilliance of Armstrong’s move buying The Huffington Post, much of what he’s done as AOL’s CEO has made Tim Armstrong look like a guy who doesn’t understand the changes happening in the media business. Being a content farm is a short-term, non-influence-y move, and burning journalistic credibility in favor of quick traffic is similarly short-sighted.
And don’t get me started about the ridiculousness of AOL’s still-alive GATHR, while Armstrong dumped the potentially far more useful PATCH for almost nothing.
Now let’s move onto Influency, and Tim Armstrong’s misunderstanding of the idea.
I’m all for making money. But the change to an Influency-based business economy that we’re in the midst of requires a longer view. Take a look at this:
Since we published that story about Tim Armstrong firing an employee publicly, it’s received minimal traffic. In fact, on far more days than not, nobody’s read the story. That’s not really a surprise; despite popularity putting us in the top 1.5% of all web sites, Answer Guy Central is small. But in the last few days traffic on our piece about Tim Armstrong’s skills as a CEO have spiked. That’s what long-view, long-tail-focused, evergreen marketing does. People are talking about what a bad CEO Tim Armstrong is, and when they search for articles about Tim Armstrong, we’re popping up. Even in a world where SEO should no longer be executed as a stand-alone endeavor, that’s what Influency through optimized content marketing does for you. It’s Influence-y. It gets you found.
Tim Armstrong has been chasing Influency for years, and viewed from a sales and marketing perspective he’s done a
great good OK job. But Influency isn’t just about marketing and sales; real Influency happens when you make yourself trustworthy and to be blunt it’s not the kind of thing the world’s worst CEO is pulling together.