In a worrying sign for WWE investors, the quick turnaround of high ranking executives within the company has continued over the past month with one being fired by Vince McMahon and another leaving of his own accord.
Outside of family members whose jobs are guaranteed for life and big hitters like WWE's Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson and their Chief Strategy and Financial Officer George Barrios (whose jobs are likely secured in the short term due to being named in the WWE stockholders lawsuit along with Vince and Stephanie McMahon), the past five years has been marked by a series of corporate departures, particularly in roles related to the company's creative direction.
The first sign of increased volatility at WWE headquarters was seen by the shocking resignation of WWE's COO Donna Goldsmith in late January 2011, believed to be tied to the disappointing financial results of the preceding quarter, despite having earlier success in her role through landing the company's lucrative Mattel deal.
Michael Pavone, the Executive Vice President of the money bleeding WWE Studios division was not surprisingly the next victim, resigning from his position in August 2011. However, worse bloodletting was yet to come.
With slowly eroding television viewership and the teething pains of setting up their own online channel, the WWE Network, executive turnover has spiralled out of control since the autumn of 2012.
As was mentioned yesterday, Brian Gewirtz, the long time head writer of Monday Night Raw was the first to be punished on the creative side of things when he was removed from the writing team and demoted to a mere consultancy role on Oct. 8th, 2012 over poor ratings. Next to fall out of favour was WWE's SVP of Creative and Development, Eric Pankowski, who was let go after just 15 months in the position in March 2013. Pankowski's replacement, Adam Rudman, lasted just six weeks in the job before Stephanie McMahon gave him his marching orders, likely due to his limited knowledge of the WWE product. The next head writer, David Kreizman, wanted out almost immediately upon being promoted, but was convinced to stay on for a few months longer.
In 2014, it was largely the people involved in the launch of the WWE Network that either got out while the going was good or were given their pink slip.
First to go was WWE's Vice President of Global Sales, Brian Maddox, in January of that year when he accepted a job as a Vice President at Silver Chalice Ventures, a next generation digital/video sports media company. You may remember Maddox as being the backtracking whistleblower known as Confidential Witness Number 1 or CW1 for short in the aforementioned WWE stockholders lawsuit.
WWE's Executive Vice President of Digital Media, Perkins Miller, was next to follow Maddox out the door, in order to take a job with the NFL as their new Chief Digital Officer in the spring of 2014.
Unlike Maddox and Miller, WWE's EVP of Programming, Matthew Singerman wasn't so lucky, getting the chop after just six months in the newly created role, a scapegoat for the WWE Network performing well below expectations in its early days of existence.
Basically, there's been so many departures of late that it's hard to keep track, so forgive me if I've forgotten anyone of importance.
Now, there's two more. The MLW twitter account broke the news yesterday that WWE had recently fired their Executive Vice President of Content, Lisa Fox Lee, after just six months in the role like Singerman:
BREAKING NEWS: WWE has fired Executive Vice President of Content Lisa Fox Lee. Lee reported directly to @VinceMcMahon; was a major player.— MLW (@MLW) July 10, 2015
Lee was someone who had worked for WWE since she left university over two decades ago, starting in their television and sponsorship sales division in March 1995 and gradually being promoted up the ranks to VP, SVP and EVP roles in TV and later Network programming. According to James Caldwell of PWTorch.com, the move in January to put all of the main content divisions under one umbrella quickly became viewed as a mistake internally and Lee struggled with her greater responsibility and workload:
"Regarding Lee, WWE went through a six-month trial run of having Lee oversee Creative, digital programming, and Network programming. The goal was to put all of the main content departments under one umbrella. But, it did not pan out....
The main issue is that before her promotion, Lee worked for WWE in various mid-level jobs contributing to TV & PPV content delivery, sales, and social media, but she did not have experience as a key decision-maker in WWE upper management.
Promoting Lee to a high-ranking executive position was viewed internally as a rash decision trying to put all of WWE's content arms under one person. And, WWE employees viewed Lee as the wrong person for the role if such a role was to be created.
The decision was made to fire Lee instead of demote her back to her previous position. It appears that sitting in on meetings with McMahon, who Lee was suddenly reporting to, led to her demise since she was no longer protected in a mid-management role.
After cutting Lee, WWE shifted back to individual content departments reporting to various executives, removing the "one umbrella for all content" approach just six months after the new set-up."
Caldwell also broke the news that WWE's Senior Vice President of Digital Content, Rob Bernstein, has left the company for a more senior position with IPG - Mediabrands Publishing, a global media agency. Unlike Lee, internally this is being viewed as a major loss for WWE's digital media division, as he was instrumental in monetising WWE's YouTube channel, launching their offshoot YouTube gaming channel UpUpDownDown that stars Austin "Xavier Woods" Creed, overseeing the development of the WWE App and growing the WWE.com website.
The latest episode of Titan Towers turmoil begs several important questions about WWE as a business. Why can't they retain the services of their most gifted executives like Miller and Bernstein? Why do they hire or promote people so ill-suited to key positions that they are fired in less than six months? Is Vince McMahon so difficult to work with and so whimsical in his thinking nowadays that he has become a detriment to the day-to-day running of WWE, even though his instincts as a promoter has a proven track record of being second to none?