Better Needs a Better Response to its Mass Zoom Firing PR Crisis

By Jeremy Knauff Jeremy Knauff has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on December 8, 2021

As the old adage goes, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. But apparently, the mortgage lender, Better, never got the memo. 

After suffering well-deserved backlash from the impromptu firing of 900 employees, all at once over a Zoom call, the company’s CEO, Vishal Garg, doubled down on his behavior by then bashing the fired employees on online message boards. 

This public relations crisis has only just begun, and I predict the fallout will last for years to come. The story has been widely covered in business, tech, and real estate outlets in droves.

Christian Chapman, a former underwriter at Better, was one of the fired employees. He thought he was logging onto another of Garg’s regular town halls, but that clearly wasn’t the case, as he soon would learn. Unbeknownst to him, this would be his last call as an employee of the online mortgage company.

Garg started the call by saying, “If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off. Your employment here is terminated effective immediately.”

During this three-minute call, he displayed no empathy. No humanity. No leadership. And then the call ended just as abruptly as it began. 

His reputation on this topic is neither good nor new. Forbes revealed the contents of an email to employees last year from Garg that stated, “HELLO — WAKE UP BETTER TEAM. You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS and…DUMB DOLPHINS get caught in nets and eaten by sharks. SO STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME.”

The outrage, justifiably so, began immediately following the now infamous Zoom call. Social media was filled with complaints of his behavior and media outlets of all types covered the story, resulting in an avalanche of negative publicity. 

As a publicist, the most valuable piece of advice I can give my clients in cases like this is to stop what you’re doing immediately and evaluate the situation thoroughly. Only then can you make the best decisions going forward. 

Garg did not do that. 

Instead, he doubled down by immediately going into online message boards and accusing the fired employees of “stealing” by being unproductive and only working two hours a day, according to an interview with Fortune.

Maybe that’s true. I can’t say. But here’s the thing—even if that was happening, which I highly doubt, for the problem to be that widespread, it would demonstrate an abysmal failure of leadership starting at the top with Garg himself. How else would 900 people consistently not perform their most basic duties and no one noticed until now? 

I believe he thought that by trashing the employees he so unceremoniously fired, he assumed everyone would just accept his claim at face value and think he made a good decision. 

But it didn’t work out that way. 

Several key executives, including Patrick Lenihan; head of public relations, Tanya Gillogley; and head of marketing, Melanie Hahn, and numerous other employees resigned shortly after that. Presumably, both because they saw the writing on the wall and because they wanted out of what appears to be a toxic work environment.

The damage from this will be widespread. Obviously, the negative publicity in the press and on social media will cause many potential clients to choose other lenders. But it will also hurt the company’s ability to recruit new employees. Career expert, Mark Anthony Dyson explains, “ Savvy job candidates are not only checking a company’s reputation and its CEO on website portals such as Glassdoor. Now, people are reporting “bad bosses” on all social channels, including podcasts, videos, and any accessible, conversational exchange where the behavior has occurred. Not only will they drop their pursuit of the company, but they will also tell others.”

And the negative publicity combined with an inability to hire quality employees will make investors and partners wary of getting involved with the company as well, severely limiting its options going forward. The timing makes this even worse because as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to fight growing inflation, mortgage rates will rise. Couple that with difficulty hiring new employees and partners and investors steering clear of Better, and you have a recipe for disaster.

From a public relations standpoint, I think there are only two solutions here. 

The ideal solution would be for the board of directors to fire Vishal Garg, apologize for his behavior, rehire or fairly compensate the fired employees, and make sure nothing like this ever happens again. If it does happen again, there’s virtually no way to recover. 

The less than ideal solution would be for Garg to remain in his position but still do everything else from the first solution I outlined. 

Based on his behavior and history, I suspect they will do nothing for several months or maybe even years, and then eventually still have to fire Garg anyway.

By Jeremy Knauff Jeremy Knauff has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Jeremy Knauff ran a successful digital marketing agency for nearly two decades until a health crisis nearly killed him and destroyed his business.He then rebuilt from that devastating loss by developing a process that his agency now uses to help clients get featured in the media so they can become a recognized authority in their industry, attract more clients, and earn more money.Knauff is a speaker, author, founder of the PR firm, Spartan Media, and a Marine Corps veteran.

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