Away CEO Steph Korey, who said she'd step down, now says she's back
By Stephen Gandel
Controversial CEO Steph Korey, who founded luggage company Away, told employees Monday that she was not giving up the top job at the company despite announcing last month she would step down following intense online criticism of her management style.
In a message to employees Monday, Korey said she had reversed her earlier announcement to clear up any confusion around the company's leadership. Former Lululemon COO Stuart Hasselden had been named the company's sole CEO last month. His first official day was to be Monday. He is also staying at the company, Korey said.
The non-departure was first reported by the New York Times.
Korey initially said last month she would step down following public outrage over revelations about her allegedly "toxic" treatment of employees, according to a report in The Verge in early December.
The news outlet said Korey berated employees on the work message app Slack. In one 3 a.m. message quoted in the report, Korey allegedly told a group of employees that she would no longer approve vacation days or work-from-home requests until she was satisfied with their performance. Korey called the no-time-off edict a "career development opportunity" for the employees.
The messages sparked outrage on Twitter and elsewhere. At the time, the 31-year-old Korey apologized for them.
"I can imagine how people felt reading those messages from the past, because I was appalled to read them myself," Korey said in response to the report. "I am sincerely sorry for what I said and how I said it. It was wrong, plain and simple."
Away announced that Korey would become the company's executive chairwoman and Haselden would become the CEO. Korey praised Haselden's leadership skills, which she said in a statement at the time would be "invaluable" for the company's "next phase of growth."
But the plan apparently has changed. Instead Korey on Monday said Haselden would become co-CEO, and that he would be sharing the company job with Korey. She also said that the company had hired defamation lawyers and had identified "deliberate lies and distortions" in The Verge's prior reporting of her behavior.
An Away spokesperson provided CBS MoneyWatch with Korey's Monday morning message to employees, which was delivered via Slack. The company declined to comment on what it specifically believes was inaccurate in the The Verge report.
The Verge put out a statement that it stands by its reporting.
Away sells popular hard-case luggage directly to consumers. The company was founded in 2015 by Korey and Jen Rubio, who is Away's chief brand officer, after the duo met working at eyeglass start-up Warby Parker.
Away has raised over $150 million from investors in four rounds of funding. The latest, in May, valued the company at $1.4 billion. At the time, the company said its sales were expected to double to $300 million in 2019.
Investors reportedly had pressured Korey to step down from the top role at the company in December. It's not clear what had changed since then.
Away is private company, with just four board members. Only one is officially deemed independent. That structure gives the company and its current executives, who are also its founders and top shareholders, a lot of power to decide who gets to be CEO.
But the recent CEO moves may create difficultly for the company in the future. Executives at Away, according to Recode, are eyeing an initial public offering.
Last year, WeWork had to call off its IPO in part because the company's poor corporate governance appeared to have given too much power to its then-CEO Adam Neuman. Neuman was later forced to resign and cut all ties to the company.
First published on January 13, 2020 / 3:27 PM
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