CEO Steph Korey of luggage startup Away is stepping down following an investigation by the Verge into her role in the company’s deeply malicious work culture. But the company insisted that they had been planning on replacing her since this spring, while Korey will remain a high-placed executive at the company instead of heading to that big Galt’s Gulch in the sky.
The Verge’s investigation alleged that under Korey’s tenure, Away pushed employees to work “exceedingly long hours” and skip planned vacations to push the company’s explosive growth, and the company’s executives routinely berated staffers in public channels on messaging app Slack. Employees at Away were prohibited from using email or Slack messages to communicate in favour of public Slack channels, creating a “culture of intimidation and constant surveillance.” Leaked chats showed that Korey referred to one employee as “brain dead” and another team as “millennial twats.”
In another incident, Korey allegedly castigated and fired six staffers for starting a channel to discuss people of colour and LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace, calling them “hateful, even racist.” (One of the fired workers, a person of colour, told the Verge, “That was jarring — three white people telling me I was racist.”) On another occasion, Korey announced she was teaching customer service representatives to be “accountable” by denying paid time off or work from home requests until they hit goals. As news of problems at Away’s culture spread, the Verge reported company officials demanded employees not respond to it and Korey apologised and said she was “appalled” at her own conduct in a statement to CNBC.
Statement from Away CEO Steph Korey
— Sally Shin (@sallyshin) December 6, 2019
According to the Wall Street Journal, while Korey is now stepping down as CEO, she will transfer to a role as executive chairman—a role that at the very least may offer fewer opportunities to torment rank-and-file employees. Away told the paper that Stuart Haselden, who is leaving the CEO job at Lululemon Athletica Inc., will take over the CEO role, while co-founder Jen Rubio will remain president and chief brand officer. The Journal also reported that Away said the search for a replacement for Korey has been underway since spring.
“In light of the article, it’s been a difficult few days for the company,” Rubio told the Journal. “But we don’t want that to overshadow this announcement.”