What Now? Firing a Key Executive.

Andreessen Horowitz General Partner Peter Levine is writing a series of tech leadership case studies called “What Now?” presented in two-part question/answer blog posts that will appear first here on AllThingsD. This is his second post. The solution will appear here on Friday.

In the previous vignette, you (as the CEO of SpiderNet) were trying to decide on how to organize the engineering unit. Your decision was to hire a new VP of engineering. Your co-founder, who previously oversaw engineering, agreed to become the CTO and chief architect. Everything seemed to have worked out with the transition and your new VP is on the job. You were certain you had a rock star on the team — references from the recruiter came back great, and he had exactly the right profile against your hiring objectives.

A few weeks later, though, at a dinner meeting with a close business associate and CEO of another company, you mention that you’ve hired an incredible new engineering VP. Your dinner friend tells you that he knows your new hire, and you’ve made a big mistake. “He’s really lazy. He has little real domain knowledge, despite the pedigree. You should have called me.” Crap.

Several months later, the laziness starts to show. Your “rock star” now becomes a “project,” and you have to manage his weekly performance and deliverables. He is just not working very hard and does not have the strategic insight into the nuances of your business. He also does not have the team’s respect. They don’t think he is a total lost cause, but they also don’t pay much attention to him. That said, he’s certainly okay — and he’s better than nobody. He puts together decent schedules, brings much-needed process to the team and always says the right things when you have your one on ones. But you don’t feel good about him, and the engineering team is not delivering at the level you’d like. You talk with your board and put together a few options: find a different job for this person and reinstate your co-founder as VP; put him on a plan and reassess in three months; or fire and re-hire.

What now?

Chime in on the comments below, and tune in Friday for Peter’s answer.

Peter Levine has been a lecturer at both MIT and Stanford business schools and CEO of Xensource. Prior to Xensource, Peter was EVP of Strategic and Platform Operations at Veritas Software where he helped grow the organization from no revenue to more than $1.5 billion, and from 20 employees to over 6,000.


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