Luggage company Away announced Monday that Steph Korey is stepping down as chief executive officer after a bombshell investigative article last week revealed a toxic work culture with her mistreating employees.
The announcement said that Korey will take on the role of executive chairman and remain on the board of directors with Away co-founder Jen Rubio. Stuart Haselden, who was chief operating officer at Lululemon Athletica, will take over Korey’s position as CEO starting Jan. 13.
“In just under four years, Jen and Steph have built an exciting and disruptive brand that has redefined how people look at travel. When they first approached me about joining, not only was I overwhelmed by the impressive company that Away is today, but also the huge potential that lies ahead,” said Haselden, who will also get a seat on the board. “I’m thrilled to join them in leading the team at this critical stage of the company’s growth, and to help usher in an era of continued success based on strong leadership and culture.”
Korey and Rubio launched the Instagram-friendly luggage company more than three years ago in New York City, and it grew quickly, selling suitcases priced at more than $200.
Last Thursday, The Verge published a damning story in which several former Away employees alleged an abusive environment where workers were expected to always be signed on and to never take time off. The article reported some of Korey’s messages on the chat service Slack, including one that called an employee “brain dead” and another announcing that workers would not be allowed to take any more paid time off in order to learn “accountability.”
According to the article, employees also accused Korey, a white woman, of firing several workers, including at least one woman of color, after claiming they had posted “discriminatory” and “racist” messages in a private Slack channel for mostly LGBTQ workers and employees of color. Korey told The Verge that she did not use the word “racist.”
After the Verge article was published, Korey allegedly told current employees that the piece depicted her in a “negative light” and had “several factual errors,” but admitted there were “some areas we can improve on.”
Korey gave a statement to reporters last Friday apologizing for her behavior. She posted a similar statement on Twitter explaining how Away is going to improve its work culture, with such efforts as executive coaching for senior management, diversity and inclusion training, and hiring of more workers.
“I can imagine how people felt reading those messages; I was appalled and embarrassed reading them myself,” Korey said in her tweet.
But later that Friday, a leaked Slack message showed Away managers directing staff not to share the Verge article on social media.
“Please do not share the article,” managers wrote, according to a copy of the message obtained by The Verge. “Please do not fave/like/comment or interact with any commentary (negative or positive) through either our personal or professional accounts.”
Monday’s announcement did not mention Away’s toxic work environment or Korey’s mistreatment of employees. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company has been searching for a new CEO since this spring.
“In light of the article, it’s been a difficult few days for the company,” Rubio told the Journal. “But we don’t want that to overshadow this announcement.”