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Groupon CEO discusses rumors of imminent firing

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - 10:00pm

Rumors are swirling that Groupon's board is considering replacing founder and CEO Andrew Mason with a more experienced leader, but he's not surprised. Or even particularly upset.

"Our stock is down 80% [year-to-date] ... it would be weird for the board not to be asking that question," Mason said at the Business Insider Ignition conference in New York City on Wednesday.

"It would be more noteworthy if the board wasn't discussing it," Mason added.

Mason's Ignition appearance was scheduled long before rumors of board members' discontent appeared in an All Things D article Tuesday, later echoed by other media outlets. Moderator Henry Blodget kicked off the discussion by asking about the rumors, and that line of questioning continued throughout their talk.

Mason wiggled out of questions about whether he would "fight" to keep his job, shifting the focus instead to the company overall.

"I care far more about the success of the business than I do about my job as a CEO," Mason said at one point. Later, when pushed specifically on whether he really does want to keep the CEO title, Mason said simply: "I want what's best for Groupon."

Still, he insisted that "if I ever thought I wasn't the right guy for the job, I'd be the first person to fire myself."

Blodget also grilled Mason on Groupon's flagging reputation. The CEO has stayed relatively quiet while Wall Street and the media piled on "an incredible amount of scorn," Blodget suggested.

Shares of Groupon are currently trading around $4, compared with their IPO price of $20 in November 2011.

Mason replied: "Our stock is going to reflect our long-term performance. I don't think you can talk the stock back up to 20 bucks. You have to deliver."

He acknowledged that Groupon has work to do on that front, but he simultaneously downplayed the importance of critics' complaints.

"We've built up a resiliency to the external noise," he said. "We'll look back at these war stories and be glad we went through that ... there's something romantic about proving the naysayers wrong."

Mason was far less impressed by Blodget's next question, which devolved into a long diatribe about Blodget's own "fall from grace" after being charged with securities fraud in 2003 for his actions as a stock analyst. Blodget talked about how the accusations "hurt," and he asked Mason how the firing rumor "feels ... you know, when you're at home."

Mason held for an awkward beat, and when his answer came, it was clear he found the question silly.

"I don't really know what you want me to say...." he trailed off. "'Sure, Henry, it feels great'? I mean, obviously, no. It doesn't feel good."

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