Seventh Generation's ouster of co-founder Jeffrey Hollender remains something of a mystery, even as details emerge about the sequence of events that led up to his unexpected departure last month.
The company's version of events is, in essence, that Jeffrey couldn't let go of the place to which he'd devoted the last 20 years of his life, even after he'd hired a new CEO, Chuck Maniscalco, to replace him. Jeffrey's associates say there's more to the story, but they won't be specific. And he's not talking.
I've been in email communication with Peter Graham, the chairman of Seventh Generation's board of directors (and Jeffrey's childhood friend), and I've talked with Chrystie Heimert, the firm's PR chief, as well as with an associate of Jeffrey. Jeffrey told me by email that he'd like to speak but cannot. Presumably, he's working out terms of his exit and has agreed, in the meantime, to keep mum.
A friend of his told me: "They basically have Jeffrey handcuffed and his mouth taped shut."
Here are some things we know: Jeffrey hired Chuck Maniscalco in June 2009, fully intending to step back from his day-to-day work at Seventh Generation, a leading brand of green cleaners, laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, diapers, baby wipes, etc. Previously Maniscalco had been president and CEO of PepsiCo's Quaker, Tropicana, Gatorade division. (All healthy products, I might note, for those who would like to cast Maniscalco as the evil seller of sugary water in this drama. Fact is, he's spent most of his career with Quaker.) Jeffrey was enthusiastic, both about the opportunity to explore new arenas -- writing books, working with other business leaders, imploring Washington to deal with climate change and toxics -- and about the new boss. He wrote:
It may surprise you to learn that my decision was a relatively easy one to make.
…While I knew I still had many meaningful contributions to make to Seventh Generation, it became clear to me that what I could not do was supply the managerial wisdom and experience needed to steer the company on the next stage of its voyage.
In addition to this extraordinary track record as a business leader, Chuck embodies the values and vision necessary to lead us. He "gets" our company's culture, passion, and entrepreneurial spirit as well as our commitment to corporate responsibility.
So far, so good.
But, for reasons that remain unclear, Jeffrey returned to Seventh Generation last summer. Was he asked back? Did he just show up? If so, why?
This began what Graham has described as "a difficult period" for the company. During a mid-September board meeting, Maniscalco resigned. The board refused to accept his resignation, Heimert told me. Jeffrey was then placed on leave of absence. That must have been quite a meeting.