Darren Huston, who has been the CEO of Priceline since January 1, 2014, is now out after details surfaced of his alleged affair with an employee. Huston, who born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands in 1966, submitted his resignation after an internal investigation revealed the improper relationship. Priceline has a high code of conduct and expects a lot of their executives, and it was proven Huston had engaged in activities that were not consistent with leaders within the company.
Priceline has very high expectations for all of their employees simply because of the fact they are active in more than 190 countries around the world. Because they are a global company, they have a vested interest in ensuring that all employees act in a manner becoming of the company. Darren Huston violated the policy because he was in a supervisory role with an employee in which he had a “close personal/romantic interest.” Granted, Huston’s employee affair wasn’t with an individual he directly supervised. However, in such a large company, it can be problematic even when an employee isn’t under direct supervision. This strict code of conduct for Priceline also carries with it the responsibility of every employee to report any perceived conduct violation.
As a result of Darren Huston’s employee affair, he is to undergo fairly severe consequences. First of all, he is going to forfeit any severance pay he may have earned. He also is going to lose around $15 million in unvested stock performance. Huston expressed his regret over the relationship, and now he probably realizes that even in a hostile takeover, a CEO will get severance pay. Although Huston was seen as a strong CEO, this mistake was costly and resulted in his termination.
Huston’s decision to have an employee affair also proved to be costly in other ways, as shares of Priceline dropped immediately, down one percent. Darren and his family, who were based in the Netherlands because of his position, are going to be flown back to his residence in the United States because of his termination.
Despite his affair with the staffer, Darren Huston may still be marketable to a certain degree. He was seen as an effective leader during his tenure at Priceline. One of the main goals of any executives is to oversee the expansion of the company and Huston was able to do that part of his job very well.
First of all, Huston was instrumental in Priceline’s acquisition of OpenTable, which is a popular restaurant booking application. Second, Darren was able to secure the services of the Chinese travel agency, CTrip. Huston demonstrated his adroit leadership in this area, because China was previously an untapped market for Priceline. Although he was unfortunate to be engaged in this improper employee affair, he also oversaw a huge expansion in the employee workforce of the company. In just four years, the payroll of Priceline has expanded from 5,000 employees to 15,000.
Unfortunately, Huston’s moral failings and consequences are not just limited to the loss of his leadership position at Priceline. Because of his dalliance with this employee, he is also going to lose his chief executive role at Booking.com as well. Former CEO Jeffery Boyd is slated to replace Huston as the interim chief at Priceline, and Chief Operating Officer Gillan Tans is going to take over for him at Booking.com.
Although he will probably suffer a solid demotion, Huston may land on his feet eventually. Prior to his employment with Priceline, he was a Senior VP with Starbucks from 1998 to 2003. He was directly responsible for installing Wi-Fi at all of the global Starbucks locations.
Hopefully, Huston will learn from his mistakes, because a man of his experience could definitely be an asset to another company.
[Image courtesy of Wikipedia commons]