NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With the firing of Andrew Mason as Groupon (GRPN) CEO the day after the last earnings call, Groupon almost recaptured all of its 25% in post-earnings lost value in a matter of days.
Even though the stock has slipped back in the last few days to the low $5s, it's clear that investors are happier with Mason gone than with him.
It's clear Mason just didn't deliver after making repeated promises. After the last 18 months of a continued grind down in the stock price, Groupon's board decided enough was enough and replaced him with Eric Lefkofsky -- the company's chairman -- and Ted Leonsis as co-CEOs.
Not surprisingly, Lefkofsky and Leonsis were both the most active members of the board. They were the big names who had stayed on the board after others like Howard Schultz of Starbucks (SBUX) had left after all the accounting hiccups. Earlier this week, in Fast Company, Lefkofsky gave his first interview as co-CEO of Groupon.What's most interesting about the article is that, at the time of Mason's firing and Lefkofsky/Leonsis taking over, Groupon said it would immediately start to look for a replacement. Yet, in this interview, Lefkofsky says he is now full-time at Groupon and has also handed over his other commitments from his investment company Lightbank to his partner and Groupon board member Brad Keywell. And, from Lefkofsky's tough talk in the interview, he certainly doesn't sound like he's going anywhere. Eric Lefkofsky is 44 and has had his hands in starting, building and selling several businesses over his career. However, nothing he's touched has ever grown so violently as Groupon. If I was him, I'm not so sure I would be eager to bring on an outsider. Who could that person be to lead a company like Groupon with its combination of sales and engineering? Groupon experimented with bringing in a COO from Google (GOOG) a couple of years ago and it ended up being a disaster for both her and Groupon. If Groupon is going to tap an insider, the most likely successor would be Kal Raman. Raman is ex- Amazon.com (AMZN) and drugstore.com. He appears to be doing a good job at Groupon so far. However, he's just not that seasoned yet at the company. It would be a big risk passing the baton to him at this stage. Therefore, Lefkofsky is probably the best person to continue on as full-time CEO for now. Lefkofsky is a founder of the company and has been actively involved in it throughout its lifetime. People love to characterize Lefkofsky as some evil villain who sells companies to others before they go bankrupt, sells stock at the top, and pushes aggressive accounting. Yet, if capitalism was a sport, Eric Lefkofsky would be winning. I know I'll get a lot of hate mail for that, but look at the objective facts and it's simply the truth. If a guy has the chance to step on the gas and present his financials in an aggressive way just because the various accounting bodies say that it's ok, how can you fault him for that? If he takes a lot of money off the table at the time of an IPO, does he lack confidence in the business long-term or is he a good risk manager who is simply being prudent after a long investment period with no liquidity? Eric Lefkofsky has always been part of the heart and soul of Groupon. He's been part of its incredible success and will now be accountable for its failings or victories from here on. I would argue that this company -- and most tech companies -- need its founders as leaders. They have the respect internally. They know the business deeply. The bodies of tech companies often reject leaders that come from the outside who just don't seem to gel with the company culture. One of the knocks against Mason -- although he got better in the last two years -- is that he was more of an engineer than a salesman. He wanted to press a few buttons from the top and have the financial results pop out the other side. Yet, Groupon relies on a huge sales force to makes those results happen. There wasn't always that love from the CEO to sales that the sales folks wanted (sales folks are often very needy too!). Lefkofsky is less a technocrat and more an operator. He respects sales although he won't kowtow to them. Will he be respected by Wall Street? As long as he delivers the numbers. There's good reason to believe that Lefkofsky could oversee an important inflection point in the next quarter or two. If Europe stabilizes and just simply stops bleeding cash, Groupon's numbers will look very good. The company will also continue to watch goods grow and seek to promote its pull approach where more users come to its web and mobile sites to search for deals rather than just waiting for push emails. I had thought Mason would deliver signs of a turnaround in the fourth quarter. He didn't and he's now gone. Time and patience simply ran out for him. But we could finally see evidence of that turnaround in the next report. If so, Eric Lefkofsky will look like a hero. At the time of publication the author was long GRPN. Follow @ericjackson This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
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