AOL's Dulles headquarters is wracked by rumors. We hear that one reason the company has writhed in the agony of impending layoffs is that its overworked human-resources department has been stretched to the limit by the task of preparing so many severance packages — otherwise, CEO Randy Falco and COO Ron Grant would have made the cuts sooner. October 16 continues to be the day people expect to get the sack. As the start of a pay period, the date will save AOL a bit of money by letting them include staffers' last paycheck as part of their severance. How thoughtful! For Time Warner's shareholders, at any rate. Sightings of boxes for employees' belongings are spreading, too. But there's one mystery: Which high-level AOL executive is quitting in protest of the layoffs?
Most of AOL's executive lineup is easily eliminated from this guessing game — as easily eliminated, apparently, as AOL staffers are from their jobs. Forget the faceless financial, HR, and legal types, as well as strongman tech chief Ted Cahall, who seems to take glee in cutting a swath through his department.
That leaves two likely candidates: Kevin Conroy, head of products (left), and Bill Wilson, the muscular, ab-proud head of programming (above, to Conroy's right). Wilson, one former AOL insider says, is unlikely to show the kind of loyalty to his troops implied by a protest resignation. Conroy, on the other hand, seems vulnerable as a member of AOL's ancien regime, having joined the company in 2001. Grant and Falco may well be content to see him go, so they can put in one of their own executives. And having built up the programming arm that Wilson now heads, Conroy may be equally sensitive to cuts there as to slashes made to his own department.
But this is only guesswork. I have no confirmation, as yet, on who's out the door — just that one executive vice president is quitting. I hear, though, that AOL's leadership is so touchy about any perceptions of chaos at the company, that they've put the screws on the executive in question not to leak any word of his departure until after the layoffs. Perceptions of chaos at AOL? You don't say. Talk about shutting the barn door after the horses have run.