Away CEO steps down after report alleging “toxic" work culture

Away CEO steps down after report alleging “toxic" work culture

On December 9, Away announced that its CEO and co-founder Steph Korey would step down from her role following public backlash to a recent Verge investigation into what has been reported as the luggage startup’s toxic work culture.

Lululemon COO Stuart Haselden will become the company’s new CEO on January 13. Meanwhile, Korey will remain the executive chairman of the company’s board of directors, and her co-founder Jen Rubio will stay on as president and chief brand officer.

What does the investigation allege?

The Verge investigation detailed frequent intimidation, manipulation, and abuse perpetrated by Korey, resulting in a “company culture people fear” and “a cadre of former employees who feel burned out and coerced into silence."

Multiple accounts from former Away employees tell of exceedingly long hours with no paid overtime. During busy periods, Korey and her managers would reportedly limit the employees’ paid time off, painting these and other exploitative practices as “career development opportunities." Korey and company executives would frequently berate employees’ efforts on public Slack channels that could be viewed by the entire organization.

On December 6, a day after the Verge story broke, Korey tweeted a statement apologizing that she’d “expressed” herself “in ways that hurt the team." Korey added that she was “appalled”, “embarrassed", and “not proud" of her behavior.

Korey said that she was working with an executive coach to improve as a leader and that the article doesn’t reflect the company Away wants to be.

“I know I have more work to do, and I will do better for the team," Korey tweeted.

On the same day, the Verge published a leaked memo showing that Away’s management banned its employees from discussing or interacting with the investigative article on social media, including on their personal accounts.

Was Away already planning to hire a new CEO?

Following the announcement that Away was hiring Stuart Haselden as its new CEO, an Away representative told The Wall Street Journal that the company had been searching for Korey’s replacement since the spring of 2019, suggesting that the decision to hire a new CEO was not influenced by the Verge’s reporting.

“In light of the article, it’s been a difficult few days for the company," co-founder Jen Rubio told the Wall Street Journal. “But we don’t want that to overshadow this announcement."

However, a Vox report revealed that Away had initially intended for Stuart Haselden to remain as the company’s chief operating officer (COO) in a role that would have seen him sharing responsibilities with Korey. Over time, Haselden would have been allowed to transition into the role of CEO, ultimately replacing Korey. This slower transition period was scrapped once The Verge story began attracting attention, leading Away to announce that Haselden would assume the role of CEO on January 13, earlier than the company had originally planned.

What is the history of Away’s co-founders?

Away co-founders Steph Korey and Jen Rubio met in 2011 while working at the direct-to-consumer eyewear company, Warby Parker. Together, they founded Away in November 2015, utilizing the direct-to-consumer model to market hard-shell, carry-on suitcases. To date, Away has been extremely successful, reporting $150 million in sales for 2018.

In May of 2019, the company was valued at $1.4 billion.