Getting fired is one of the worst things that can happen to a person, but imagine losing your job just before the holidays, along with 900 other people, and being told about it via Zoom. That’s the method Vishal Garg, CEO of mortgage firm Better.com, used to let staff know they won’t be having a very merry Christmas.
Starting with the understatement of the year, Garg said, “I come to you with not great news.”
“If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group being laid off. Your employment here is terminated effective immediately.”
Garg blamed staff performance and productivity as well as the changing homeowner market for the layoffs. “Last time I did [this] I cried,” he told the now-unemployed workers, which doubtlessly elicited plenty of sympathy for the boss of a company that received a $750 million cash infusion from investors last week. Thankfully, the CEO was remarkably adept at keeping his emotions in check on this occasion.
Nine percent of the company’s employees were laid off, including its entire diversity, equity, and inclusion team.
Garg is no stranger to controversy. In an email sent to staff last year obtained by Forbes, he wrote, “You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS… SO STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME,” he wrote. Bottlenose dolphins are considered one of the most intelligent animals in the world, so maybe he should have chosen a different creature.
Fortune reports that Garg wrote posts on professional network Blind after the firings that accused many laid-off staff of stealing through their laziness. “You guys know that at least 250 of the people terminated were working an average of 2 hours a day while clocking 8 hours+ a day in the payroll system?”
“They were stealing from you and stealing from our customers who pay the bills that pay our bills. Get educated,” he added. Garg later confirmed he posted the messages. “I think they could have been phrased differently, but honestly the sentiment is there,” he said.
Better.com’s chief finance officer, Kevin Ryan, told the BBC: “Having to conduct layoffs is gut-wrenching, especially this time of year.” He added that “a fortress balance sheet and a reduced and focused workforce together set us up to play offense going into a radically evolving homeownership market.”
Former employees on the call describe it as lasting “three minutes tops” in an interview with the Daily Beast. “They dumped us like trash. We were there since the beginning and worked hard for the company and for our roles,” another said.
“I failed to show the appropriate amount of respect and appreciation for the individuals who were affected and for their contributions to Better. I own the decision to do the layoffs but in communicating it I blundered the execution,” he wrote.
“In doing so, I embarrassed you. I realize that the way I communicated this news made a difficult situation worse. I am deeply sorry and am committed to learning from this situation and doing more to be the leader that you expect me to be.”