The AA and the problem of firing your boss

If you were the AA, how would you have handled Bob Mackenzie's 'Jeremy Clarkson' moment?

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 02 Aug 2017

If you look at the AA’s Twitter accounts, you wouldn’t think much was happening at the moment.

@aa_UK, the company’s main account, hasn’t tweeted for a couple of weeks. Its latest activity included a few tips for the Glastonbury mud and the odd update about a mistaken email, but it's mostly been preoccupied with an advertising campaign about a singing baby.

@aa_Help, on the other hand, has been active. Indeed, only yesterday, it tweeted this gem:

That’s yesterday, August 1, the day that the AA announced its executive chairman Bob Mackenzie had been fired for gross personal misconduct with immediate effect.

When asked for details, the AA declined to elaborate, though it did slip in what amounts to a profit warning over unexpected spikes in summer demand. For some bizarre reason, the AA’s share price tanked, dropping 16% at one stage.

Later on, Mackenzie’s son told The Times that his father had resigned, rather than being fired, and was currently hospitalised over an ‘extremely distressing mental health issue’. Stories have also emerged of a ‘Jeremy Clarkson moment’ with a colleague at a hotel bar.  

A former boss of NCP car parks, Mackenzie took the helm at the AA in 2014 when he led a management buy-in. His primary concern since then has been to attempt to reduce the company's considerable debt, leading among other things to the sale of the AA's Irish division last year. 

There’s no point in speculating any further about the circumstances of Mackenzie’s departure, but the whole affair certainly paints an unflattering picture of the AA itself. Chaos reigning, no one really appearing to know what’s going on – it’s like British politics in corporate form.

To be fair to the AA’s communications department, it’s hard to know exactly how you’d handle it much better. They had no choice but to say something, but revealing full details may have raised more questions than it answered. Saying he was leaving with full effect ‘for personal reasons’ may have calmed the curiosity surrounding the event, though not sufficiently to prevent panic. One wonders what the AA has told its employees.

In any case, it leaves new acting CEO Simon Breakwell and chairman John Leach with a tough task. They’re starting under a cloud – after all, the board presumably picked them out of desperation as much as strategic vision –which makes it doubly important that they establish their direction clearly, confidently and, crucially, soon. Just so long as they don’t start referring to themselves as ‘strong and stable’... 

Image credit: Observista/Flickr


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