As integral as Steve Jobs was to the Apple ( AAPL) success story -- as founder and resident genius -- he too was fired from the company he started during a power struggle over products and pricing. While Jobs always asserted he was indeed fired, the man who succeeded him as CEO, John Sculley, has recently offered a different take -- one that might be a bit of revisionist history. Scully, a former Pepsi ( PEP) executive brought into the Apple fold by Jobs himself -- the legendary pitch was, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?" -- has claimed in an interview with the BBC that he never actually fired Jobs. Scully became CEO in 1983; Jobs and Apple parted company in 1985. While Sculley admits to strategic conflicts that soured their once strong relationship, he describes Jobs as having been demoted by the board of directors and removed from the Macintosh group he headed, but not specifically fired. Nevertheless, pushed and pressured, Jobs left the company to pursue his own software company, NeXT Computing, a decision that reportedly enraged the board. He later helped shepherd the animation studio Pixar. In retrospect, firing Jobs proved to be a profitable turning point for the company. Upon his return to its corner office in 1996, Jobs had a renewed energy and focus, demanding that Apple cease its scattershot approach to product development and, instead, perfect its lineup one launch at a time. His perfectionist ways led to a string of successes -- the iPod, iMac, iPhone, iPad -- that saw his company become one of the world's most successful and highly valued.
We've all had the occasional disappointing Valentine's Day. Few have had as bad a holiday as David Neeleman, though. As founder (in 1998) and CEO of JetBlue ( JBLU), Neeleman made that airline a successful entry into the world of low-cost airlines, a space dominated for years by Southwest Airlines ( LUV) -- an airline he had worked for as an executive vice president after it acquired his start-up, Morris Air, in 1993 (he was fired five months later, however). Neelemann had been on the outs with his board for much of 2007, tensions that were not eased at all when a Feb. 14 ice storm stranded 1,100 planes and left many passengers stranded without food, water or working bathrooms. Amid media scrutiny, the board took full advantage of the opportunity to cut him loose, demoting him to chairman.
Today Sandy Lerner is owner of an organic turkey farm and the Hunter's Head Tavern in Virginia, lauded by animal-rights activists for her dedication to humanely raised and compassionately killed fare. Her former employers were less concerned when the ax fell. Lerner founded Cisco Systems ( CSCO) in 1984 but was forced out as in 1990 (her husband and company co-founder Len Bosack quit) after what has been described as a mutiny: Looking to expand the company, Lerner and Bosack sought out venture capital funding. Among the investors was Don Valentine's Sequoia Capital, whose $2.5 million earned him a 30% share of the company. Exercising his authority, Valentine brought in a new CEO, John Morgridge, without seeking approval from Lerner. The move upset the founder greatly and relations between her and the new management team never moved beyond initial friction and resistance. Valentine has said he was given a choice by executives that, bluntly put, either she had to go or they would. To keep the company's C Suite from jumping ship all at once, Lerner was let go. She finalized the divorce by cashing in her stock holdings.
Greene co-founded the virtualization-focused tech company VMWare in 1998. It was acquired by data storage company EMC as a subsidiary in 2004. In 2008, EMC ( EMC) executives, reacting to the will of its board, decided Greene lacked the expertise and experience needed to run what was then a $2 billion company. She was let go and replaced by Paul Maritz, a veteran of Microsoft. Not helping her win friends at her parent company was an ongoing push for complete autonomy from EMC's control. Greene made news this month when she was named to Google's ( GOOG) board of directors.
We wonder if Mark Zuckerberg may worry about the threat of karma should Facebook ever move forward with an IPO. He does, after all, have firsthand experience with seeing a founder unceremoniously separated from their company. Zuckerberg's partner in the early days of the social network giant was Eduardo Saverin, a wealthy classmate at Harvard who -- as anyone who saw the somewhat fictionalized film account of their partnership, The Social Network, knows -- served as a money man. Saverin, Facebook's business manager and CFO in its early days, found himself unceremoniously pushed out as investors such as PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and Napster's Sean Parker stepped in. Saverin sued and an out-of-court settlement was reached. The terms of that agreement were not disclosed.
Kalin, co-founder of the arts and crafts marketplace Etsy in 2005, has the unfortunate distinction of being pushed out of his leadership role with his company twice. He first agreed to step aside in 2008 when Maria Thomas, a former National Public Radio executive, was brought in at the urging of investors. A year later, Thomas left and Kalin was brought back as CEO. In July, Kalin once again agreed to step aside, this time to allow CTO Chad Dickerson to take the reins with the latter touting his desire to grow the company at a faster pace.
The Sharper Image
Thalheimer founded the gizmo-centric company in 1977 at the age of 24. Being the retailer America turned to for their ionic air purification needs, however, wasn't enough for hedge fund investors who forced their way onto the board of directors in 2006. Friction between the founder and new board members -- fueled by a stagnant stock, continually declining revenues and lawsuits over the safety of the once ubiquitous air purifiers -- led to his being replaced as CEO that year. Thalheimer may have had the last laugh. Nine months after the company bought out his shares it went bankrupt and by August 2008 had shuttered all of its stores.
In 1988, Hollender founded Seventh Generation to sell environmentally friendly cleaning, personal care and paper products. By 2010, it was pulling in more than $150 million in annual revenue. That profitable evolution, however, wasn't speedy enough for investors. In June 2009, Hollender left his post as CEO to instead take on a new role as "chief inspired protagonist" (whatever that meant). The following year, he and the company ended their relationship completely. Hollender himself has never given much detail on the separation, other than saying it was "without cause." A letter issued to shareholders by the company used the phrase "divergent paths," suggesting that its board and founder had incompatible visions on how to grow the enterprise.
Was Jakob Lodwick fired from Vimeo, the video-sharing site he co-founded? Like so many things involving someone the Internet gossip site Gawker once pegged as a "fame-seeking oddball," it is hard to know for sure. Lodwick's own Web footprint these days, including his vulgar musings and doodles on a Tumblr blog, are doing little to set the record straight. This much is known. In 2006, Connected Ventures -- the company behind Vimeo, Busted Tees and CollegeHumor.com -- was acquired by Barry Diller's InterActive Corp. ( IACI) (it bought a 51% stake). Months later, Lodwick was on his way out the door, posting on his blog at the time: "As of an hour ago, I am no longer affiliated with IAC/InterActiveCorp/Connected Ventures/Vimeo. No hard feelings!" Beyond that message, the involved parties have managed to stay pretty quiet about the split, leaving the busybodies of the Internet to suggest that, rather than an amicable split, Lodwick was perhaps shown the door because of his reputation as an online provocateur. In reference to the later theory, the Web site TechCrunch posted "Vimeo Founder Fired, Does A Bong Hit," pointing to Lodwick's "goodbye post" and picture of him holding a rather large piece of drug paraphernalia. -- Written by Joe Mont in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/josephmont. >To submit a news tip, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow TheStreet on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.