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AOL CEO apologizes to staff for public firing

Tim Armstrong, chief executive officer of AOL Inc.
Peter Foley | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Tim Armstrong, chief executive officer of AOL Inc.

Tim Armstrong, the chief executive of AOL, issued an unusual apology on Tuesday to his entire staff for the public manner in which he fired an employee during an internal conference call last Friday.

A recording of the firing was leaked to news outlets and caused a firestorm around Mr. Armstrong, who has been trying to turn AOL from a struggling Internet portal into a successful media company.

The four-paragraph statement, sent to AOL employees at 4:30 p.m. and obtained by The New York Times, said, "I am writing you to acknowledge the mistake I made last Friday during the Patch all-hands meeting when I publicly fired Abel Lenz. It was an emotional response at the start of a difficult discussion dealing with many people's careers and livelihoods. I am the C.E.O. and leader of the organization, and I take that responsibility seriously."

Read more from the New York Times:

(Read more: AOL chief embraces inner Trump, abruptly fires employee)

The firing took place during a conference call with more than 1,000 employees of Patch, the local news service AOL runs for hundreds of towns. Mr. Armstrong had convened the meeting to emphasize the direness of Patch's circumstances and prepare the staff for coming layoffs and management changes.

"If you think what is going on right now is a joke, and you want to joke around about it, you should pick your stuff up and leave Patch today," Mr. Armstrong told the employees.

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But right after that statement he can be heard reprimanding Mr. Lenz, Patch's creative director, who was videotaping the meeting, then firing him.

"Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you're fired. Out!" Five seconds later, to stunned silence, he proceeded with his message.

In his letter to the staff, Mr. Armstrong further explained the reason for the firing, saying confidential meetings should not be recorded and that Mr. Lenz had been warned previously not to make recordings. AOL said Mr. Lenz would not be hired back but that Mr. Armstrong had contacted him to apologize.

(Read more: AOL makes $405 million bet on internet video, ads)

AOL has spent hundreds of millions on the Patch service, but has acknowledged being disappointed with its financial performance. During a call with analysts last week Mr. Armstrong said he would sell off or seek partners for as many as 400 of Patch's 900 local sites, a move that could result in hundreds of layoffs.

The extent of the layoffs are expected to be announced internally on Thursday or Friday.

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