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Better.com CEO Vishal Garg steps back as employees detail how he ‘led by fear’

Vishal Garg, the CEO of Better.com, appears to be paying the price for his actions.

The Better board of directors sent an email to workers this morning informing them that Garg will be taking time off immediately following “extremely terrible occurrences over the last week.”

According to an employee who did not want to be identified, the action came after the digital mortgage company hired a crisis consultancy earlier this week. It came as no surprise to those of us who had been watching the drama over the past week — indeed, over the past year.

More information about the executive’s behaviour has surfaced, including emails from this week in which Garg chastised his own investors, according to Vice. He already had a reputation for abusing employees in emails, but the attitude of his investors came as a complete surprise.

The board stated in an email to workers received this morning that during the interim term, CFO Kevin Ryan would assume the role of CEO. It also admitted that it had hired “an independent 3rd party firm to conduct a leadership and cultural evaluation,” the results of which will be “considered in the development of a long-term sustainable and positive culture at Better.”

However, it is possible that the choice will be too little, too late. TechCrunch spoke with a number of current and former employees who are doubtful that a poisonous culture can be rectified in such a short period of time. The CEO’s so-called “apology,” which came after the company’s heads of PR, marketing, and communications resigned, was largely perceived as disingenuous damage control, according to those same employees. One employee claimed that she had considered retiring before the recent incidents, but that they finally drove her over the line.

Garg “leads by fear,” she claimed, requesting anonymity. “Nothing ever seems to be good enough.” He would scare staff with dire consequences if they did not work harder, faster, and without being lazy.”The pressure seems to have increased in recent months, as the corporation suffered a setback when the number of refinancings fell.

One day after getting a $750 million capital infusion as part of a revised SPAC arrangement, the company lay off 9% of its workforce. While it was not the first (or certainly the last) employer to use Zoom to lay off employees during this pandemic, the manner in which it was done seemed to irritate even casual observers.

Another hint of worry was the company’s unexpected request for employees to return in person after calling itself remote-first. Many people, including some who had already relocated and purchased homes in other cities, were perplexed by this.

Better’s SPAC partner, Aurora Acquisition Corp., released early data in mid-November, suggesting that the digital lender predicted a net loss of between $85 million and $100 million in the third quarter. According to an S-4 filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the fourth-quarter estimate looked even worse.

 

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