A pedestrian holds a Snap Inc. bag outside of the company’s building in the Venice Beach neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

Can Evan Spiegel Keep Snapchat’s Staff From Boiling Over?

(Bloomberg) -- They’re like lobsters escaping a steamy death. Since Snap Inc.’s March 2017 public listing, at least five vice presidents and the general counsel have left the Los Angeles messaging company. The lawyer who filled the general counsel vacancy was the personal attorney for Snap Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel and a friend of Spiegel’s dad. The lawyer’s previous experience included negotiating with Snap to get Spiegel majority voting power and an IPO stock award, which amounted to $637 million.

My colleague Sarah Frier put it bluntly in her dig into the unrest at Snap, saying Spiegel “prefers executives who don’t challenge his ideas,” according to people she spoke with.

We’ve heard that before. (See: Uber, Airbnb.)

You can see why executives might not want to stick around at Snap. Forget the turbulent stock price—it just seems like an unpleasant place to work. (No bonuses this year!) Spiegel described his management philosophy at the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. conference last month as keeping things “just below the boil.... Like when you heat water, and it’s really f--king hot, but it’s just below the boil.”

I take all my showers at just below boiling. My morning scalding is so motivating!

But what does executive turnover mean for Snap? It’s probably not good. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had some turnover in the early days, and he has also surrounded himself with loyalists. But at least he succeeded in bringing on qualified executives like Sheryl Sandberg. She has stuck around.

When Spiegel hired Emily White from Instagram, she left after just over a year. Jill Hazelbaker, Snap’s head of PR and policy, stayed for almost exactly one year. Since then, Hazelbaker has stuck it out at Uber. Uber!

Meanwhile, who still works at Snap? The company’s human resources chief, Jason Halbert, who has been the subject of about 10 complaints from employees, according to tech news site the Information. Here’s just one choice excerpt from the story: “During a presentation on employee safety, he went on a tangent about rapists and mass murderers. He likes to discuss how many psychopaths are in the population. He’s mentioned that during military deployments he used sexual fantasies to help him meditate, which brought him to orgasm.”

This is the head of HR.

Snap’s ultimate success probably depends on its product vision more than anything else, and that effort has always seemed pretty tightly controlled by Spiegel and those closest to him. So, any unrest may not bring the company down. Still, it’s hard to believe that a public company whose executive team seems to be getting less professional, not more, is on the right track. There’s a reason people are heading for the exits.

And now, I leave you with David Foster Wallace (PDF): “Standing at the stove, it is hard to deny in any meaningful way that this is a living creature experiencing pain and wishing to avoid/escape the painful experience.”

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