Scott Kveton, the CEO of Urban Airship, is taking a leave of absence from the company, effective immediately, the Portland Business Journal reported yesterday. An article published in the Oregonian last week stated Kveton is under investigation for allegedly sexually assaulting a former girlfriend.
As the story continues to unfold, here’s my perspective on a few of the key players:
The Oregonian: The O’s original article was so salacious that of course I devoured every word. But by the end of the story my professional instincts kicked in. The entire article could have been distilled to one or two sentences, something along the lines of: “Scott Kveton, CEO of fast- growing mobile app startup Urban Airship, is under investigation for sexual assault.” The rest was gratuitous detail.
The Oregonian, of course, has been burned repeatedly on sexual assault stories, getting scooped on the Bob Packwood and Neil Goldschmidt scandals. And one could argue that Kveton is a quasi public figure, a symbol of Portland’s booming software economy. The fact remains that the story was utterly sensational — and something of a hatchet job since Kveton has yet to be arrested, much less convicted.
Urban Airship: After the Oregonian story was published, the company released a statement that the investigation was a personal matter for Kveton. That messaging changed yesterday, when Urban Airship announced that new chief financial officer, Mike Temple, will take over as interim CEO. In a letter to employees, Kveton also revealed that he had been planning to exit the company for several months and said that a search for a new CEO has been underway for “a few weeks,” the Portland Business Journal reported.
Although the situation can’t be pleasant for Urban Airship’s 164 employees, the company will likely survive these allegations unscathed. Urban Airship attracted $46 million in venture funding this last year alone…from the likes of True Ventures, The Foundry Group and August Capital, plus investments from Intel and Verizon.
Portland’s tech community: Kveton is the second Portland tech executive to face sexual assault allegations in the past year. Whether this will be a wake up call for the city’s young, brash and male-dominated software leadership remains to be seen.
It may also be a wake up call for civic boosters. To be sure, software companies are creating jobs, investing in the local economy and revitalizing the urban landscape.
But as tech companies become an increasingly powerful force, Portland business and government leaders should pay attention to the protests targeting software companies in San Francisco, where tech executives, and their employees, are viewed as arrogant, entitled – and destroyers of the community fabric. See Nathan Heller’s latest New Yorker article: San Francisco vs the Tech Industry: The tech industry made the Bay Area rich. Why do so many residents hate it?
Scott Kveton: Stories about powerful men and sexual assault invariably have the same ending. And Kveton will likely rise from the ashes, no matter what the outcome. Still, his story begs a more literary interpretation. Five years ago, Kveton was unemployed; he launched Urban Airship with the help of the Oregon Self Employment Assistance Program, designed to give the unemployed the option of starting their own business instead of hunting for a new job. His star rose quickly — perhaps too quickly.
Hubris: it’s a disease that can topple executives and companies alike.