A crazy story is unfolding in Silicon Valley right now: RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal was fired by his board after he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors of battery and domestic violence against his then-girlfriend, who he accused of having sex for money and allegedly assaulted. He says it was just an argument. She called 911.
But while that is crazy, that's not the really crazy part to me: Watching the reactions of those of us in the blogosphere who don't know all the facts of the case is the really crazy part.
With so many contradictions out in public, someone must be lying, and those contradictions are whipping social media into a frenzy. Here are a few examples:
• On his blog, Chahal says there was no abuse, just a "normal argument." The police say they have a video of him assaulting his then-girlfriend 117 times in 30 minutes, that she was taken to the hospital and that, according to BizJournals, the officer testified that the girlfriend told him "that Chahal grabbed her by the hair, threw her on the bed, hit her many times about the head with his palm, threw her back on the floor and also spit in her face and rubbed it in to her face and chest" and, according to TechCrunch, that she suffered a hematoma after the attack.
• On his blog, Chahal says the supposed security video footage wasn't used in court because "If anything, it actually made the SFPD look bad because they violently assaulted me as I opened my door despite my being fully cooperative.". According to Re/Code, the video -- if it exists-- could not be presented in court because it was seized from his home security system without his consent. The police argued they were afraid he would erase it; the judge didn't accept that argument, so it was thrown out.
• On his blog, Chahal says he only accepted the misdemeanor plea deal instead of fighting 45 felony counts because "after a lot of soul searching I believed I was acting in the best interest of my company, my employees, my customers, my family, my friends and my investors." The board likley fired him-- technically-- due to those convictions, although it seems like there was tremendous public pressure -- especially in the blogosphere-- on them to do so, according to this article by Re/Code.
- On his blog, Chahal says he's being targeted because he's a high profile individual: "Celebrities in sports, entertainment and business, and high net worth individuals in general are all potential targets. It was only a matter of time when I would fall prey." Is that true? Was he forced into accepting a plea deal due to a high profile status? Was his right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty marred by his status as a successful entrepreneur?
As I wrote in a previous blog post a while back, there are only two things I know to be true: 1) That family is more important than anything else. 2) And that some of the other things I think to be true, probably aren't true. If I use that lens to approach a situation like this, it gets very murky: Would a well known tech CEO fighting to maintain his role resort to lying in order to protect his interests? But on the other hand, would the police resort to lying about a video and trumped up charges that were not true, just to target him? Where is the truth in all of this frenzy?
For me, it really comes down to this: Is the guilt of which he was proven (well, pleaded to)-- misdemeanor counts of domestic violence and battery-- enough on its own to justify the board's decision to fire him?
If I try to just stick to the known facts -- and not the blogosphere's rabid reaction -- I would say that yes, the board was right to fire Chahal. As a VC I respect once said to me, A CEO only has three responsibilities in a company: 1) To set the long-term vision of the company. 2) To make sure there is enough cash in the bank to realize that vision. And 3) to hire the very best people to execute on that vision. Any blocker that stands in the way of a CEO being able to achieve those three things-- emotions aside-- means a responsible CEO must step down. And misdemeanor domestic violence and battery charges would be enough to adversely affect #3, and likely #2 as well.
But to to the broader point, I'm reminded by a saying from longtime sailor Cap'n Fatty Goodlander, where he once wrote (paraphrasing) "There are no excuses on the open ocean. If you're the captain of the boat, and it gets hit by an asteroid, then you should have been looking up. You are responsible."
Well said, Fatty, well said. Chahal most certainly was not looking up.