I heard the news that Groupon’s founder and CEO, Andrew Mason, was fired. A few days later I found a posting of his final statement to his employees. I don’t know anything personally about Mason other than what I saw in an online video of a Startup School presentation he gave in 2010 – from which I have concluded that he is an entrepreneur who worked hard to build a business and is now being forced to leave a company he loves.
“All I think about in my brain is Groupon, and when this is over, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to go back to being a normal person.”
Regardless of the success of his decisions, he was doing the best he could. Back in 2010, he was constantly fretting over his ability to lead.
“I’m thinking about all of the ways I can screw up and how to avoid that. My best trait as a CEO is that I suck as a CEO because that means I surround myself with people who make up for all those things and we have a great team.”
Obviously, despite his humility, he made questionable decisions and with lost revenue and a falling stock price, the board of directors decided to remove him. I don’t fault them for it; they’re simply trying to do what’s best for the company and reverse its apparent decline. However my surprise regarding his termination has come from people’s comments suggesting that Mason can’t feel any loss over being forced from his job and his company because he made so much money.
In a Forbes article entitled: Don’t Cry For Groupon’s Andrew Mason, author Joan Lappin suggests Mason deserves no pity because he still owns 7.1% of Groupon, and he’s received over $27 million through cashing out shares in the Series F and Series G rounds two years ago. This sentiment was also echoed repeatedly in the comments of the article where Mason’s final letter was posted. To summarize: “he’s rich, so he deserves no sympathy for his lost job.”
Of course Mason’s unemployment is not comparable to a blue collar worker who upon being laid off, must go out immediately and find a replacement job just so he can feed himself and pay his bills. Mason is likely financially set for life, never having to worry again about a paycheck. My point is to look past the amount of money a person has and consider his or her feelings over losing the job. Whether it’s the blue collar worker or the executive, both will feel sorrow over losing a job they loved, especially if it’s one they have invested a lot of time and energy into.
[Starting a business is] “unbelievably hard and it’s non-stop.”
Mason must have made many sacrifices over the years and endured all of the highs and lows of a starting a business. He no doubt felt worry and fear and joy and I can only guess at how difficult it must have been as he walked away from the project that had consumed his life for the past 5 years.
It’s within this speculation that I read his parting words and was impressed with his practicality, candor, humor and concern for his company’s employees and future. He honestly seems to care, but even if he doesn’t, why do so many people assume that just because he made money, this dramatic upheaval to his life won’t cause him some suffering. I predict it will, and probably already has.
I’m tired of people classifying the businessperson who works hard to build and run a business – as someone whom we should mock and look down upon if consequently he or she earns a good living. We don’t respect a CEO that chooses poorly and destroys his business, nor do we respect the one who builds, leads and ultimately profits from his success. So whom DO we cheer for?
“I don’t think you have to fail. You have to realize it can happen, because it shapes the way you make decisions.”
*All quotes from Andrew Mason are taken from the 2010 Startup School Presentation referenced above.