Mason sent Groupon employees a surprisingly honest farewell letter, took responsibility for Groupon's results, and admitted that he was fired
An unconventional CEO to the end, Andrew Mason in a refreshingly candid and funny memo to staff revealed he was sacked
“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.”
This is how Andrew Mason, the founder and CEO of Groupon, kicked off his resignation letter after the company ousted him on February 28, 2013.
The goodbye memo addressed to the, ‘People of Groupon’ is full of humility, humour and amazement in the sense that it’s rare to see a founder CEO own up to his own shortcomings so candidly. Beyond candor, humor and self-awareness, Mason's graceful 372-word valediction shares what seems to be a genuine affection for the company and employees he leaves behind. Little wonder that the memo has been hailed almost immediately in some quarters of the internet as the best exit note ever.
Well, Mason’s resignation note is not the first one to cause such a stir. However what differentiates his memo from that of the others is how he neatly avoids the bitterness. The 32 year old Mason owns up to his failings, “As CEO, I am accountable,” and goes on to say, “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.”
Instead of the usual “resignation” letter that freshly-terminated CEO’s love to send out that describe obviously fake reasons for their sudden and even more obviously fake “decision to resign,” Mason sent Groupon employees a surprisingly honest farewell letter, took responsibility for Groupon’s disappointing results, and admitted that he was fired. Compare this with the resignation memo’s of either Carl Bartz who wrote “I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board,” or for that matter Greig Smith who blamed Goldman Sachs ‘toxic and destructive’ culture in his Op-Ed in New York Times or for that matter Jake DeSantis who too used New York Times as a platform to declare he could no longer work in AIG’s “dysfunctional environment.” One can argue that Bartz, Smith and DeSantis were disgruntled employees whereas Mason was one who co-founded Groupon and hence the difference. Nevertheless, a quick reading of the memo would have one say, “How very human of him.”
However, Mason being fired from the coveted post was long overdue. Media reports state that there were "fractures" and "clashes" between Andrew Mason and board members Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell. In November 2012, Mason mused about firing himself during a business conference in New York. “It would be more noteworthy if the board wasn’t discussing whether I’m the right guy for the job,” Mason said. “If I ever thought I wasn’t the right person for the job, I’d be the first person to fire myself.”
This time on, the departure came a day after a disastrous quarterly report in which the company badly missed Wall Street forecasts. Groupon announced $81 million fourth quarter loss; share prices are down 77 per cent of their value since it went public in 2011; and to add to it the company’s international business is imploding. Trade analysts also blamed his lack of business experience when he turned down a $6 billion acquisition bid from Google.
Mason’s exit brings to an end months of speculation about his fate at the Chicago-based company. Going forward Mason, who holds nearly 47 million shares of Groupon worth about $213 million, will continue earning a salary for six months after his departure, while his health care and other benefits will remain in place for 180 days. Meanwhile, executive chairman Eric Lefkofsky and vice chairman Ted Leonsis will temporarily take over the reins while a replacement is found.
Calling himself a 'simple pilgrim' Mason offers a piece of wisdom that is instructive to all entrepreneurs across the spectrum, “Have the courage to start with the customer … and deliver sustainable customer happiness.”
“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,” he said in his memo. It’s rare to see this type of honesty in a publicly traded company. One would be failing in one’s duty if one does not applaud Mason’s honesty and admire his ability to maintain a sense of humor in what is, no doubt, a difficult professional setback for him.