Groupon CEO Fired: Shows One Last Great Act of Leadership

Groupon CEO Fired: Shows One Last Great Act of Leadership

Mar 1, 2013

After much vacillation and indecision, Groupon finally pulled the trigger and fired CEO Andrew Mason. After a rocky ride since the companies IPO and with no turn-around in sight, the once revered leader of the “supposed” next great tech success story was punted to the curb in hopes that new blood will suddenly make this one time Chicago Gem into what people once thought it could be.

Upon his firing, Mason shared his thoughts with his employees (and everyone else by intentionally leaking the note) through this letter where he says his good byes.

“People of Groupon:

After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why… you haven’t been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.”

“You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we’ve shared over the last few months, and I’ve never seen you working together more effectively as a global company – it’s time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.

For those who are concerned about me, please don’t be – I love Groupon, and I’m terribly proud of what we’ve created. I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you. I’ll now take some time to decompress (FYI I’m looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I’ll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.

If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!

I will miss you terribly.

Love,

Andrew

I admittedly hadn’t followed Mason. As a native Chicagoan I was proud of the company’s early success and hoping to see it reach the heights that it once appeared capable of reaching, but I didn’t really like the product so it was never top of mind for me.

However, as I watched the stock and the company spiral after passing on some unbelievably large offers from Google and others, I couldn’t help but wonder if Mason’s days were numbered.

Clearly they were, and perhaps in this moment of resignation, Mason may have left one of his greatest marks on Groupon. This of course is to be seen, but what he did do was show a quality of leadership that is seen so infrequently these days that I felt compelled to write about it.

From my earliest days as a manager and leader I was convinced that honesty, humility, empathy and integrity were the keys to success. And while showing these traits consistently can present challenges to even the most successful and tenured leader, they certainly do for me, Mason showed them all clearly with his parting words.

Here is a look at how he employed these great leadership traits and summed them up in one concise and well written notice of departure.

Honesty: The letter was brutally honest. He intertwined humor, but his no BS approach to expressing what had happened is unheard of among the ranks of large public company executives. Beyond that it had a transparency about it that came screaming through his words. Making you not only want to feel for him, but admire him even in his time of (apparent) failure.

Empathy: If you read the letter you could tell that he genuinely cared about the people of Groupon. It wasn’t about his legacy or even about him. He sought to see them succeed. He shows that he is secure in his success AND his failures but ultimately concedes that he wants what is best for the company he worked hard to build. Takes a strong leader to acknowledge that.

Humility: He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t point any fingers (except at himself). He recognized his responsibilities as CEO weren’t being met and he supported the company that he loved in its change rather than the more common resentment that would be heard from an exiting executive.

Integrity: His last piece of wisdom sums this up so well. He knows what got them there, and he knows where he lost his way. But his integrity hasn’t wavered. He aspires to deliver great experiences to his customers and a wonderful place to work for his employees. These are the right things for a leader to want, even if they aren’t the one to do it.

Mason clearly showed through the results of the company that he wasn’t perfect, but with this letter he showed some things that so few leaders do. That alone has won the hearts and minds of many. Including me.

Andrew Mason, you should be proud! What a great example of leadership in a time where most would retreat or retaliate. Your best days may very well be ahead of you. Companies need more leaders like you.

16 comments
SanchitaDhara
SanchitaDhara

As a management student this is perhaps an example of a leader who has strong integrity and humbleness. I have a strong advocacy for honesty and taking responsibilities for my own actions. The fact that we should learn from our failure and always encourage our team to never ending passion to be the best is one that comes out from his speech. Thank you so much for the insightful blog the leadership lessons from the speech was really helpful. 

Jeff Badger
Jeff Badger

I am thrilled that the vocabulary is changing back to what IS important. Maybe the vocabulary can start to chage the mindset. The mindset can start to change the actions. The actions can start to change the heart. if start to use words like Honesty, Integrity, Humility, Empathy, then maybe there may be hope for leadership.

 

We, as a culture have fallen so far away from our moral compass that leadership has come to be vilafiled and demonized. Yet, it is the code of our Author to make us all leaders. Leadsership starts in our homes, with our families, our communities and our businesses, We are all leaders and we are all invited to that glorious responsibility.

 

I do not know Mason. I can say that I have failed to. Some of my greaatest victories have come from my failures. Failure is not something to admonish but to learn from. I believe one of the comments said it correctly, "we are all H.U.M.A.N." Failure. or making mistakes,. is the impedous for the greatest learning.

 

I do not judge Mason but we all will be. Maybe that is the greatest lesson here to learn, that we are knuckleheads who need Grace constantly so that we can lead others. Now that is something to ponder.

 

Mason, if you read this, take this experience and do not allow it to define who you are, that comes from someone else. Take this and seek restoration. Accept Responsibility. Reject Passivity. Lead Courageously. Seek the Greater Rewards. And remember that we are still knuckleheads.

Faryna
Faryna

Mason's sign off is remarkable, Daniel, but his sign off doesn't overcome his immaturity, shenanigans and failure as a leader. I understand, however, that you didn't follow Mason when Mason was completely out of control and high on his own ego.

 

Any suggestion to Mason to tone it down and bring an A-game was met with a "STFU, hater."

 

As Groupon ascended to its heyday, Mason was recklessly dweeting (tweeting while drunk, on drugs, or whatever). I knew then - this guy is going to crash and burn. And do some damage on the way down. Big money can only float incompetence for so long - even if it's someone else's big money.

 

Mason was always honest. In an inappropriate way. Like a guy that makes obscene gestures to your wife as you walk down the street with her - arm in arm. That's a kind of self-absorbed honesty that is vice - not virtue.

 

None of which is to say that he hasn't matured. Maybe, he has. For his sake, I hope he has and will mature further. Perhaps, he will even get a soul. But it's obvious that he still lacks a spiritual perspective in his correlation of game play to leadership. Leadership is not a game. Leadership is about love.

 

Recently on my blog:

The Corsair: Whovian-Zombie Fan Fiction, American-Gangnam style

http://stanfaryna.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/the-corsair-whovian-fan-fiction/

Lisa Kuhn Phillips
Lisa Kuhn Phillips

Great summary Daniel. His letter is priceless, professional, and ... perfectly h.u.m.a.n. What a wonderful story to read on a Friday. Inspirational is an understatement.

MarkCoxon
MarkCoxon

Great read Daniel,

 

You are right, genuine compassion always shines through, and this letter makes you an Andrew Mason fan, even if you never actually knew his name before this event.

 

 @avphenom Mark C

westfallonline
westfallonline

exceptionally well written summary of the impact of Mason's resignation.  Your five components of leadership are the building blocks of a great message, that continues to evolve.  Like a lot of people who read this blog, I'm curious what you will come up with next !  Thanks for the insights - well said!

Latest blog post: Got Influence?

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV moderator

 @Jeff Badger Jeff - thanks for joining the conversation and thanks for the great comment.

I agree whole heartedly about hope for leadership and the need to learn from failure.  Sounds like you have your arms around this leadership thing.

Hope to see you around here more often!

 

danielnewmanUV
danielnewmanUV moderator

 @Faryna Stan- thanks for the very thoughtful reply. I am without question giving him the benefit of the doubt.

 

I truly hope he has learned and will grow from this.  His success is impressive but his humility here is what shined through for me.

 

Cheers!

Faryna
Faryna

 @danielnewmanUV 

 

Beyond Mason, your short list of leadership characteristics is dead on.

Lisa Kuhn Phillips
Lisa Kuhn Phillips

@danielnewmanUV hahaha... No acronymanymanyms necessary... Think hue as in many shades/colors of a woman or man...we possess so many thoughts and actions that can or can't be justified in moments of time. We just learn 'tis better not to judge, just accept a hue•man act for what it is and a hue•man being for who they become. 50 shades, 57 flavors, 64.... colorful teams (in MarchMadness) ?

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