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AOL firing: How not to fire an employee

AOL firing goes viral after AOL CEO Tim Armstrong fires a senior executive during a conference call meant to rally employees. Should a boss fire someone so publicly? 

By Javier E. DavidSpecial to CNBC.com / August 13, 2013

AOL Chairman and Chief Executive Tim Armstrong speaks during the launch of the HTC One smartphone in London in February. Mr. Armstrong's abrupt firing of an AOL executive in the middle of an employee conference call has gone viral.

Toby Melville/Reuters/File

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In a tense conference call last week, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong abruptly—and awkwardly—fired his creative director. The incident was captured in an audio clip in which the CEO mimicked Donald Trump's infamous boardroom rejoinder. 

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A strategy call over the company's embattled Patch network that was meant to rally morale instead turned into an impromptu bloodletting. As Armstrong laid out plans to close a batch of Patch's sites and lay off staff, he swung the ax at Abel Lenz.

In the audio clip, which is now going viral, Armstrong is heard telling the call's participants to "pick up your stuff and leave Patch today" if they weren't taking the network seriously. He then trained his sights on Lenz, whose job description includes taking pictures of board meetings.

"Abel, put that camera down right now," Armstrong is heard saying. Following up with a dictate that rivaled Trump, Armstrong said: "Abel, you're fired. Out."

Patch has struggled since AOL acquired the news and information platform in 2009 for $7 million.

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