2011 top execs to be told 'You're fired'

Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard among companies that unceremoniously ousted their chief executives this year, while others saw their head honchos resign under a cloud.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor on

Carol Bartz and Leo Apotheker are among a select group of top executives who will have 2011 etched in their minds for a long time, as the year they were dishonorably dismissed from their place at the helm.

Fired over the phone, former Yahoo CEO Bartz said she was given two hours to resign or be fired, prompting her to send out an internal memo to staff informing them of her dismissal.

Apotheker's fate at Hewlett-Packard (HP), on the other hand, dangled dangerously for days before the company's board of directors eventually decided to cut the cord--just 10 months after the German had assumed the CEO position.

ZDNet Asia looks back at top executive departures, unceremoniously or otherwise, this past year.

Carol Bartz, former CEO, Yahoo
The female executive was not one who went down quietly, even if she did receive a severance payout that reached US$10 million.

In an interview with Fortune after she was fired by Yahoo's board on Sep. 7, Bartz said: "These people f***ed me over."

Her outburst came after a prescheduled telephone conversation with Yahoo's chairman Roy Bostock, who told the former CEO she had two hours to resign or be fired, reading off what she said sounded like a legal document.

"Why don't you have the balls to tell me yourself? I thought you were classier," Bartz reportedly told Bostock during the concall.

She noted that Yahoo's board was faced with tremendous pressure to boost revenue, especially after it rejected Microsoft's US$44.6 billion offer in 2008. Bartz had joined the company in 2009.

After the phone call, Bartz sent out an e-mail to Yahoo employees, revealing: "I am very sad to tell you that I've just been fired over the phone by Yahoo's chairman of the board."

The company's CFO Tim Morse was appointed interim CEO. It has yet to identify a new CEO.

Leo Apotheker, former CEO, Hewlett-Packard
Named CEO in October 2010, Apotheker joined HP after resigning as CEO of SAP, which had decided against renewing his contract.

During his 10-month stint at the IT giant, the German stunned the industry with his decision to spin off the company's successful PC business and discontinue its WebOS operations.

Reports subsequently emerged that HP's board had met to debate the fate of Apotheker's place in the company, but no decision was officially announced.

On Sep. 23, former eBay chief Meg Whitman was formally named the new HP CEO, leaving Apotheker with a severance package of at least US$7.2 million.

In a media statement, the company's non-executive chairman Ray Lane said: "We are at a critical moment and need renewed leadership to successfully implement our strategy and take advantage of the market opportunities ahead.

"[HP's board of directors] very much appreciate Leo's efforts and his service to HP since his appointment last year. The board believes the job of the HP CEO now requires additional attributes to successfully execute on the company's strategy."

The IT vendor in October said it would no longer be selling off its PC business, reversing Apotheker's earlier decision. Earlier this month, it also unveiled plans to make WebOS open source and pledged to be active in developing and supporting the operating system.

Michael Woodford, former CEO, Olympus
In a statement released Oct. 14, Olympus said Woodford had been "unanimously" fired as CEO over differences with the management team and for an apparent lack of understanding of the Japanese company's corporate culture.

The Brit failed to understand the need to reflect the Japanese culture and management style of Olympus, which was established 92 years ago, according to the company's chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa.

Woodford later revealed that he had commissioned a PricewaterhouseCoopers report that uncovered payment irregularities in connection with Olympus' acquisition of Gyrus Group in 2008.

The company earlier this month admitted to illegal accounting practices spanning more than a decade, including the use of US$1 billion to hide losses from bad investments. Kikukawa resigned from the board last month.

Gianfranco Lanci, former CEO and president, Acer
The Taiwanese hardware manufacturer announced in March that Lanci had resigned following a dispute with board directors over the company's future growth strategy.

"Lanci held different views from a majority of the board members and could not reach a consensus following several months' of dialogue. [Both sides] placed different levels of importance on scale, growth, customer value creation, brand position enhancement, resource allocation and methods of implementation," Acer said in a statement.

In an interview with AllThingsD.com, Lanci said he had wanted the company to be more focused on mobile and growing its global footprint beyond Taiwan.

"At that time, I already saw if we want to become a major player in this new world, we needed to do certain investments, mainly on software and on smartphones and tablets, on touch," he said.

Acer, however, refuted Lanci's claims and instead accused its former CEO for failing to deliver results and execute a mobile strategy, resulting in a backlog of inventory. In a statement, the company then also said globalization had been its "established policy" and that "'de-Taiwanization', or the reverse, has never [been] an issue".

David Wei, former CEO, Alibaba.com; and Elvis Lee, former COO, Alibaba.com
Both executives resigned from their positions at China's biggest e-commerce site following an internal investigation which uncovered a rise in fraudulent activity on the site.

While not directly implicated in the increase in fraud, Wei and Lee were taking responsibility for the "systematic breakdown [in Alibaba.com's] culture of integrity", the company's chairman Jack Ma said in a statement.

Over 2,300 fraudulent storefronts were allowed to register as "gold suppliers" on the site between 2009 and 2010, but failed to deliver goods after they were paid for by customers. The average buyer claim against such sites was under US$1,200, Ma said.

Dirk Meyer, former CEO, AMD
In a move that surprised some in the industry, Meyer stepped down in January amid signs that the move might not have been entirely his.

In a statement, AMD had said then: "The board believes we have the opportunity to create increased shareholder value over time. This will require the company to have significant growth, establish market leadership and generate superior financial returns.

"We believe a change in leadership at this time will accelerate the company's ability to accomplish these objectives."

Microsoft executive Rahul Sood then tweeted that Meyer's resignation was "completely and totally unexpected".

Rory Read in August was named AMD's new president and CEO, moving from a position that saw him lead Lenovo's U.S. operations.

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