No Happy Endings? The Biggest and Most Controversial Founder Exits in Tech

This isn't the first time that a big tech CEO or founder has been fired from their own company
When Groupon founder and CEO Andrew Mason was sacked at the beginning of March it made big news. Shares had dropped and so the company’s board bid Andrew adieu resulting in a further 24% fall.

‘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.’ Andrew explained to employees before adding ‘Just kidding – I was fired today.'

This isn’t the first time that a big tech CEO or founder has been fired from their own company though, and plenty have left under a range of other ‘colourful’ circumstances. Here are some of the most high profile founder exits from tech companies in recent memory.

Jobs’ Job


Of course one of the biggest and most well-known founder exits was that of Steve Jobs who historically got fired by Apple when he was just 30 years old. After co-founding Apple at just 21, Jobs went on to crack the Fortune 500 and then recruited one John Sculley (previously the head of Pepsi-Cola) to become the new chief executive. Unfortunately the two had a bit of a falling out following the poor commercial performance of the Macintosh which was Jobs’ Baby. Coupled with complaints that Jobs was a demanding and harsh boss, this drove Sculley and Apple’s board to push Jobs out of the company altogether.

And Jobs took it hard, telling Stanford University that ‘What had been the focus of [his] entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating’ and described himself as a ‘very public failure’. Of course though he came back and eventually steered Apple on to great success, so perhaps there’s hope for Mason?

Lies and Deceit at Yahoo!


Perhaps even more controversial though was the sacking of Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson – not for steering the company to its demise or for being an unreasonable boss, but for lying on his CV. Only weeks after he was hired it was discovered that he lied on his CV about doing a computer science degree. This lead to the board of directors not only firing Scott but also having to drop several more employees for failing to catch the fib, quite a sordid mess indeed.

The HP Conveyor Belt


At HP it seems that firing CEOs is all in a day’s work. Leo Apotheker was fired in September of 2011 after making a series of unpopular decisions – such as the acquisition of business software company ‘Autonomy’ for $10 billion and killing off both the HP Touchpad Tablet and the WebOS operating system. Prior to Leo’s exit though was an even more colourful exit. Mark Hurd was dismissed for ‘sexual fumbling’ and inappropriate behaviour.

Of course not all these stories have unhappy endings, and sometimes founders and CEOs do retire under much happier circumstances. Bill Gates for instance left Microsoft to spend more time with his family and engage in more philanthropic pursuits. Even Bill though hasn’t been completely happy with the company he helped forge, recently describing Microsoft’s mobile strategy as ‘clearly a mistake’ and describing a need for ‘more innovation’.

Is there such thing as a happy ending for tech founders and CEOs?

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