“I’m thinking I’m going to let “Randy” go,” I told “Raul” who was one of our two investors. Raul nodded, and then he asked me why I was thinking of letting Randy go.
“Randy’s having problems working with the rest of the team. I’m going to try and see if I can help…”
Raul cut me off with a wave of his arm, and then he said, “Don’t bother. I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear, but you’re going to have fire Randy.”
It was my turn to nod this time.
The truth was I knew in my heart of hearts that Randy had to go. The truth was I knew Randy needed to go.
We were having our weekly engineering review meeting in our boardroom, the office next mine. My cofounder and VP Engineering led the meeting,
The meeting was going along just fine until Randy starts ripping into the VP Engineering. He was questioning the engineering schedule of one of the projects in development.
Randy started screaming at the VP Engineering about something, I can’t remember what. However, I do remember defending the VP Engineering.
Then Randy started yelling at me, “What are you? His spokesperson!”
“Excuse me?” I responded.
Randy repeated himself, “Are you his spokesperson!” He was yelling at the top of his lungs.
“What the hell is wrong with him,” I thought? He was out of line, and I could have easily clocked him at that moment, but I didn’t.
Instead, I picked up my notebook, and I looked at Randy and calmly said, “You are out of line. This meeting is over.” I then got up and left the boardroom.
I went to my office, and I closed the door. I needed to get out of the building.
Fortunately, I had an offsite meeting, so I had a ready excuse to leave the building and think about what to do with Randy. I decided to call an emergency staff meeting for the next day at 9AM.
The executive staff (all founders of the company) were all assembled in the boardroom. I start with some prepared remarks.
“As probably most of you know, yesterday we had an incident happen during the design meeting. We have to treat each other with dignity and respect.
“Yesterday, in my opinion, that didn’t happen. Here’s what I am not saying. I am not saying we can’t have disagreements, and I am not saying we cannot raise our voices.
“What I am saying is we need to treat each other with respect. I’d like to hear your thoughts.”
We go around the room, and everyone is supportive. The VP of Operations is the last to speak, and he says:
“I don’t have a problem with what you are saying except if you want a bunch of ‘yes men’ pansies. I’ll resign right now if that is what you are looking for.”
Randy’s voice tone was way over the top. You could feel his anger coming through.
That’s when I knew Randy had to go. And that’s when I told my investors.
You have control over staff, but you should have a reason if you’re going to fire someone.
About one month later, I fired Randy for cause. Fortunately, we had a very broad definition of cause in our contracts, so Randy didn’t get the accelerated vesting of his stock if he was fired without cause.
More importantly, the board supported my decision.
You’re going to get asked my your investors why you are firing your CTO. Yes, you have control over the staff of your company, but you will be questioned by your board.
Do you feel the noose going around your neck? You should.
Just remember that your board is judging your ability to make decisions. And if you don’t have a reason (or you have a flimsy reason) for firing a key executive, your board is going to wonder whether you are the right person to be CEO.
For more, read: How Do You Fire Your Cofounder?