According to excerpts from a soon-to-be-published book about Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Barrett was more than a little stunned. He’d just been assured by company chairman, Fred Amoroso, that another candidate, interim CEO Ross Levinsohn, would land the full-time CEO gig. And, Barrett and Levinsohn had enjoyed a warm working relationship.
I can relate to what Barrett must have been feeling.
Less than a month after joining Earle Palmer Brown (a now defunct, but then vibrant, $400 million integrated marketing agency), I was pulled aside by Russell Kowalski, an EPB human resources manager, and told the exact same thing.
We’d been attending a senior management off-site in Bethesda, Maryland, EPB’s corporate headquarters. And, at that precise moment, some 75 of us were participating in a series of team-building exercises such as basketball, volleyball and anything else Steven Covey, author of: The Seven Habits of Successful People, said would build esprit de corps among a confederation of countless smaller firms CEO Jeb Brown had hastily cobbled together.
Kowalski pointed to a figure on the court. “See that guy with the moustache?” he asked. I nodded. ‘You’re now reporting to him,’ he said.
I went slack-jawed, since I’d been hired only weeks earlier by Mitch Kozikowski, EPB’s president of public relations. Mitch had told me the two of us, along with the founders of what would later become Carter Ryley Thomas, would create a new powerhouse in the industry. I was totally psyched. But, now Mitch was gone. He’d been replaced by the guy with the moustache, Bill Southard.
I don’t think you should feel bad
Before I continue, though, let’s quickly return to Yahoo’s Barrett.
Like a good soldier, he decided to suck it up, and make things work with Mayer. Almost immediately, though, Barrett began to hear rumors he’d been replaced. Barrett confronted Mayer, who denied the scuttlebutt. Then, the poor guy read a report on The Wall Street Journal’s ALLThingsD.com website confirming that Google’s Henrique De Castro had been given Barrett’s job. Ouch.
Barrett called Mayer not to confront her, but to congratulate Marissa on the hire. He also wanted to negotiate a severance package. When she finally got back to Barrett, Mayer sighed, “You called?” He was nonplussed by her arrogance but, nonetheless, complimented Mayer on the De Castro coup. She said: “I wasn’t able to tell anyone I was hiring him. I don’t think you should feel bad.” Nice.
A happier ending
My story took a very different turn than Barrett’s. I flourished with Bill Southard as EPB’s president. And, together we built a formidable New York presence. In many ways, Bill turned out to be one of the best bosses ever (and, he certainly paved the way for what would inspire some of my later successes at Peppercomm). As for Mitch Kozikowski, he went out as the same, classy guy he’d always been. Today, he’s thriving as a consultant in Pittsburgh.
There are right ways and wrong ways to hire and fire people. As someone who, like Barrett, learned of a major personnel change second-hand, I can tell you, it’s not only the wrong way to handle a power transfer, it also creates a toxic culture among survivors and burns bridges. EPB went under for a reason. We’ll see what becomes of Yahoo.