A couple of weeks ago, we reported that the recent high level of WWE executive turnover had continued with the recent firing of their Executive Vice President of Content, Lisa Fox Lee, and the departure of their Senior Vice President of Digital Content, Rob Bernstein, for a more senior position elsewhere.
As I mentioned in my post, executive turnover has become so high over the last five years that it's difficult to keep track of all the comings and goings, so unsurprisingly I forgot to mention a few important names like:
Former EVP of Sales & Partnership Marketing, Andrew Judelson, who left WWE for a similar position in IMG in February 2013 and had previously worked as an executive for the NHL, Sports Illustrated and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
Former EVP of TV Production, Will Staeger, who also left WWE for a job at IMG in November 2014;
- Jane Geddes, who held VP and SVP positions in WWE's talent relations department, who left the company for unknown reasons in February 2015;
- Former Chief Digital Officer, Lou Schwartz, who left WWE for another role at WorldNow also in February 2015.
You may be wondering why over a dozen high ranking WWE officials have either left or been let go in such a short space of time. The answer can be found in last week's extremely detailed cover story for the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter
(a month's subscription required but recommended for this article alone) by James Caldwell that looked in-depth at what is driving corporate execs out of the company. He paints a picture of talented individuals being initially attracted to WWE by their seeming openness to new thoughts, but quickly growing frustrated by an out-of-touch Vince McMahon's whimsical nature where he frequently changes his mind and only listens to ideas that fit within his narrow, and in his mind superior, way of doing things. Another problem is thrusting people into roles they are obviously ill-suited for, either due to cronyism or becoming awestruck at landing a big hitter from elsewhere.
I don't want to spoil the article too much, as clearly Caldwell put a lot of time and effort in crafting his eight page masterpiece, but there's some important news items that I feel deserve wider exposure and will cover briefly. Rest assured there's a lot I'm not covering, including several damning quotes from former company insiders on WWE's corporate environment that are required reading for people interested in WWE's inner workings and helps explain the current creative malaise. So let's get to the points that I think need emphasising here:
The horror stories of working on the WWE creative team for the erratic Vince McMahon who "micromanages the WWE product to death" and routinely orders scripts to be rewritten at the last minute have been well documented at Cageside Seats, but it's useful to have these complaints documented in one place and Caldwell manages to include some new insights into this sadly all too familiar problem.
Regarding the short-lived promotion of Lisa Fox Lee to the newly created position of EVP of Content, this was an unsuccessful attempt to put the WWE Creative, Digital and Network divisions under one umbrella, because she was ill-equipped for the position. Lee had worked underneath Kevin Dunn in his TV department for the vast majority of her two decades with WWE, and it seems that Dunn lobbied for her promotion in order to get his tentacles even deeper into the company and have greater influence over the WWE Network and their other digital platforms without the responsibility. However, Dunn's attempted power play quickly failed when Lee was exposed in creative meetings with Vince McMahon and Triple H, likely due to her lack of product knowledge. After her firing, WWE went back to their old way of doing things.
Speaking of putting people in the wrong roles, WWE's Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer, Michelle Wilson, now runs the Network Programming division, despite lacking a background in television programming (she held senior marketing positions for Kraft/Nabisco, NBA, XFL and the United States Tennis Association before coming to WWE in February 2009).
Caldwell's argues that Staeger's departure from WWE was an underreported story in the wrestling media having been an Executive Producer in ESPN and a SVP for Dick Clark Productions, and there was even thoughts of him replacing Dunn at one point, but he left the company "because he saw the writing on the wall". As former head writer of Smackdown, Alex Greenfield, found out to his peril any attempts to replace Dunn, even on the secondary show, will be fought by him tooth and nail. Greenfield believes that Dunn "is not one lick more talented than the EP/director of a mid-market NBA team", let alone one that worked for ESPN, and that WWE "would be well served bringing in someone just like that to take over television production because they would be more creative". Not only is Dunn a barrier to more innovative production, but he's also a conservative force creatively, a devil in Vince's ear to hold firm and not fix what ain't broken.