There’s no such thing as a founder who goes quietly. The Weinstein Company, the film studio that fired one of its two co-founder brothers amid sexual harassment allegations, now joins other companies, like Fox News and Uber, that parted ways with influential bosses who misbehaved or stood idly by while others did. There’s dual risk, both from what the departing founder takes away and what he leaves behind.
Harvey Weinstein’s exit followed charges that he reached settlements with women who claimed he sexually harassed them over three decades. Mr. Weinstein, an executive producer of “The King’s Speech” and “Django Unchained,” initially responded with a statement pledging to conquer his demons and citing the culture of the 1960s and ’70s, when rules were “different.” His private production company’s board pushed him out anyway.
After the purge comes the refurb. This is always more intricate when the departing boss is a founder. Think about Uber, whose prime mover, Travis Kalanick, was pushed out by investors concerned by the frat-boy behavior of company managers. The ride-hailing service has now limited Mr. Kalanick’s remaining shareholder powers, appointed a clean-cut new chief and brought in a new investor, SoftBank.
A deep clean is also still underway at 21st Century Fox, where the controlling Murdoch family had to step in and fix its TV station’s culture after its founder, Roger Ailes, was purged amid a sexual harassment scandal.
The Weinstein Company will face two familiar problems. Influential industry figures perpetuate internal ways of operating that tend to outlive them. Like Mr. Kalanick at Uber or Dov Charney, the ousted founder of the failed fashion chain American Apparel, Mr. Weinstein grew out of an industry with a reputation for poor treatment of women. Things may change — and scandals help — but only glacially.
The other problem is that founders can take away the spark or contacts that helped their firms in the first place. The Weinstein Company will be run by Mr. Weinstein’s brother, Bob, and the chief operating officer, David Glasser, while an internal investigation proceeds. But will it be as effective without its formative double act? Such uncertainties may explain why boards often miss the moment when a founder’s comportment goes from a foible to a liability. Once they do, the grubby handprints are hard to scrub away.
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