IT is the cliché of choice for anyone looking to put a positive spin on things when leaving their job.
• Outgoing Groupon CEO Andrew Mason leaves frank memo to staff revealing he was sacked
• Analysts say departure was overdue after sliding performance on stock market after initial meteoric rise
• Memo read: “After four-and-a-half years as CEO of Groupon, I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding - I was fired today.”
But in a brutally frank missive to staff, the outgoing chief executive of voucher company Groupon admitted he would not actually be “spending more time with family” but had in fact been fired.
Andrew Mason, who co-founded the company, wrote to employees earlier this week, telling them he was paying the price for a slide that has left Groupon’s share price at about one quarter of its initial listing.
Mr Mason wrote: “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.”
Groupon, which offers online deals to customers, is now looking for a new leader after it posted dismal quarterly results on Wednesday.
Once hailed as the fastest-growing start-up in history, Groupon rose to prominence in 2010 by offering sharply discounted online coupons for everything from neighbourhood car washes to spa treatments.
The company joined a number of consumer internet start-ups to go public at multibillion dollar valuations in 2011.
But shortly after, demand for daily deals began to evaporate. Groupon’s international expansion began to erode growth and margins, and Wall Street soured on the company, wiping out a lot of its market value.
A 32-year-old computer programmer with an irreverent sense of humour, Mr Mason compared his tenure at the company to Battletoads, a 1990s Nintendo video game, saying he had managed to reach the “Terra Tubes” level on his first shot, something the technology website Wired described as “a Herculean, almost impossible, achievement”.
Groupon now has about 10,000 employees in 48 countries. However, its shares have lost about three quarters of their value since its November 2011 stockmarket flotation at $20 US per share.
Jordan Rohan, an analyst with brokerage and investment firm Stifel, said Mr Mason’s exit “was long overdue”.
“I view Mason as a visionary idea generator,” he said. “Few would argue with how impressive the Groupon organisation was as it grew. However, at some point it became the overgrown toddler of the internet — operationally clumsy, not quite ready to make adult decisions.”
Mr Mason was known for his atypical sense of humour during his time as chief executive. Last April the New York Times claimed he gulped from a beer bottle while he set corporate goals, including boosting financial controls, during an employees’ meeting.
He also famously purchased a spotted pony, named Spice, to give to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he visited Groupon’s Chicago headquarters. And a video uploaded to Youtube in 2008 is widely believed to show Mason doing Yoga in his underwear – something he has never publicly denied.
Business commentators say the company is likely to favour an outside candidate who has e-commerce and global experience to replace the controversial Mason.
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.”
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