Luggage Startup CEO Accused Of Creating Toxic Workplace Won’t Go Away After All

Luggage Startup CEO Accused Of Creating Toxic Workplace Won’t Go Away After All

After a controversial story last year exposed a toxic workplace atmosphere at luggage startup Away, the company’s chief executive Steph Korey was reported to be stepping down from the role while taking on a new title of executive chairman. But that decision evidently didn’t stick, and Korey will resume the CEO role alongside another incoming executive who was originally planned to take over the role.

First, a brief recap of the story that brought us here. In a lengthy investigation published in December, the Verge highlighted numerous incidents and workplace correspondence by Korey that saw employees worked to the bone without personal or vacation days, emotionally manipulated, name-called and insulted (“brain dead” and “millennial twats” were two reported terms), and castigated publicly in workplace chats. One employee told the site that Slack “bullying,” including by the company’s executives, was “extensive and relentless” at the company.

The public response was swift, so much so that the company demanded its employees not to like or share the story on social media. Just days later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Korey was stepping down from her role as CEO and into the new executive title. The company announced the same week that Lululemon alum Stuart Haselden would be joining the company to fill the CEO role beginning January 13.

But this plan has evidently been scrapped, and Korey and Haselden will operate as co-chiefs executive. According to the New York Times, which first reported the news on Monday, Korey expected to step into the role of executive chairman and continue business as usual, but that created confusion when she carried on her duties as CEO.

Korey told the Times that she had “a very external-facing role working with new vendors, working with new partners, recruiting new candidates. And without a change, it looks like they have a board director reaching out to them who doesn’t work at the company.”

In other words, she wanted to continue being CEO with a different title so everyone would leave her alone. That didn’t work out so she’s CEO again and she brought a friend.

Screenshots shared with Gizmodo by the company of an internally distributed Slack message sent by Korey to Away employees shortly after 7 a.m. on Monday of this week—Haselden’s first official week with the company—about the company’s “leadership plan” describe “inaccurate reporting that was published in December about our company” that “unleashed a social media mob.” The Slack message goes on to address the leadership changes.

“In an attempt to protect the company, we announced something that had been planned for a bit further into the future: that Stuart would join as CEO and that I would move into a new role as Executive Chairman, intended as an active leadership role alongside Jen and Stuart,” the message said. “Unfortunately, this was misinterpreted in the media as me leaving Away, and has caused more confusion than clarity (both internally and externally). So, let me clear that up: I am not leaving the company.”

The message went on to state that, as the New York Times noted in its report this week, the company has hired law firm Clare Locke LLP—the same firm that represented University of Virginia Dean Nicole P. Eramo in a defamation case against Rolling Stone for its botched story “A Rape on Campus”—to represent the company, adding that the firm had “identified deliberate lies and distortions in The Verge’s reporting.” No specific lies or distortions were identified by Away’s spokespeople and no official legal action has been taken at the time of reporting.

The Times received a statement from a spokesperson at the Verge that stated, “Steph Korey responding to our reporting by saying her behaviour and comments were ‘wrong, plain and simple’ and then choosing to step down as C.E.O. speaks for itself.”

Korey ended the oddly sappy note to staff by claiming she felt “invigorated and inspired for the future of Away and of this team: we are more in it together than ever, and I couldn’t be prouder.” I wonder if Away employees feel the same.