You have a new boss!

Black-Under-New-Management-T-ShirtsLess than a month after joining Yahoo as chief revenue officer, Michael Barrett received a phone call from a reporter who said, “Oh my god. You have a new boss! What do you think?”

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 He’d been replaced by the guy with the moustache, Bill Southard.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 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.

4 thoughts on “You have a new boss!

  1. Appreciate the comments, men. Earle Palmer Brown was actually a great experience for me personally. Sadly, I’m one of the few people who can say that. As for Marissa, she’s a brilliant product engineer. The jury’s out on everything else.

  2. Thanks for the memories, Steve. Or not. Working with the PR team at Earle Palmer Brown was a highlight. As were the lame softball games. But being forced to read Covey was an ordeal and made me feel like a witness to hypocrisy since EPB top leadership wasn’t really leading. Finally, the way my desk was moved every week like the guy with the red stapler in “Office Space” wasn’t very endearing.

    On the other hand, those experiences built up my fortitude for sales and entrepreneurship. When I joined the late and not lamented VMS eight years later and both the CEO and my manager were let go practically immediately, I was able to roll with the punches. leave with honor, and go on to better things.

    I’m not sure what will happen with Yahoo, but it sounds like there will be a certain amount of schadenfreude for Marissa Mayer, especially if she goes down with the ship.

  3. Steve:

    Well posed POV. Time will tell. Between your musings and those of Peter Himler and countless others I surmise that the honeymoon at Yahoo is over. Unless Marissa starts getting authentically invested in Yahoo amd it’s employees she will be yet another piece of burnt toast on the counter.

    Keep up the good words.!