Those ill-placed kicks at a defenseless, cowering puppy have cost Centerplate CEO Desmond Hague his job. The company announced Tuesday that he has resigned and replaced on an acting basis by Chief Operating Officer Chris Verros.
"The decision comes as a result of Hague’s personal misconduct involving the mistreatment of an animal in his care," according to the company's announcement.
Centerplate, a concessions management company that serves spectators at numerous major sports and entertainment venues including the San Diego Chargers' Qualcomm Stadium and the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park, plainly hoped the controversy would blow over.
That was probably a vain hope, given how widely the video of Hague kicking and choking the dog had spread online. A public petition calling for his removal had gathered nearly 200,000 signatures, and the teams and other venue owners that are Centerplate's clients were feeling the heat. it's an important example of how a CEO is more than just another corporate officer: He or she is the face of a company, and effectively on duty 24 hours a day.
Authorities in Vancouver, where the incident took place back in February, have said that Hague's response to their investigation hasn't helped matters. For one thing, he has sowed confusion over whether the dog, a year-old Doberman puppy named Sade, is his or a "friend's." In any case, animal protection agents have referred his case to criminal prosecutors.
Our earlier post on the matter appears below:
There's no surer path to public disgrace than to be caught mistreating a defenseless animal. Say hello to Desmond Hague, CEO of the food-service company Centerplate, who has made himself simultaneously famous and infamous on a Michael Vick scale by getting videotaped kicking and abusing his year-old Doberman puppy in a Vancouver hotel elevator.
I'm with George Dohrmann of Sports Illustrated on this: Don't watch the video unless you want to "ruin your day, your week." It shows Hague repeatedly kicking the cowering dog, then hauling on her leash so violently that she's pulled off her feet.
The dog has been turned over to the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Vancouver, where the incident occurred. Hague may face charges there, amid reports that the dog has been systematically abused.
This has created something of a public-relations issue for Stamford, Conn.-based Centerplate, a privately owned firm that provides food and beverage concession services at sports and entertainment venues across the country. Among its clients are Qualcomm Stadium, home of the NFL San Diego Chargers, and AT&T Park (San Francisco Giants) and the new Levi's Stadium (San Francisco 49ers). Calls for boycotts of Centerplate services have already surfaced.
So PR teams for Hague and the company have swung into action. Hague issued a statement expressing regret that "a minor frustration with a friend’s pet caused me to lose control of my emotional response. ... I would like to extend my apology to my family, company and clients, as I understand that this has also reflected negatively on them."
Centerplate says that "as a condition of his continued employment with Centerplate, Mr. Hague will personally donate $100,000.00 USD which will be donated towards the establishment of the Sade Foundation in honor of the dog he mistreated in the elevator to help support the protection and safety of animals in the city of Vancouver." Sade is the dog's name.
TBogg of Raw Story helpfully stripped the company statement of its PR gloss. His translation: "Hague will perform 1000 hours of community service (don’t count on that lasting too long) and will spend $100k creating the Sade Foundation -- named after the dog, not the Marquis de or the boring singer -- which will support the protection and safety of animals. Like all foundations, I think we can expect this one to be a tax deductible one. Well played, Centerplate accountants!"
The incident raises the old question of how to deal with a CEO's activities outside the office. The issue surfaced earlier this year in connection with Brendan Eich, whose brief tenure as CEO of Mozilla, developer of the Firefox web browser, ended after his earlier contributions to the anti-gay Proposition 8 campaign in California became widely known.
Eich's contributions were personal, but the uproar showed that it's often impossible to draw a line between a corporate CEO's public and private lives -- the CEO is more than employee, but the very face of a company.
Centerplate is trying to draw that line. In its statement, the company stressed that Hague's misconduct was "personal." But plainly it viewed the matter as demanding a corporate response.
The firm says it placed Hague on probation after "recognizing that Mr. Hague is truly ashamed of his actions and has expressed sincere remorse and shame for erratic behavior that is uncharacteristic of him."
But is that so? The British Columbia SPCA says it has established to its satisfaction that the dog belonged to Hague, not "a friend." The organization's spokeswoman told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the dog's behavior in the elevator "certainly gives the indication of fearfulness, and that indicates she has received this treatment before." SPCA officers were appalled by the dog's living conditions at home, according to court documents reviewed by the Vancouver Sun. If true, you might want to add lying and recidivism to Hague's alleged offenses.
We're not advocating that Hague be canned. But if you think Hague's "personal misconduct" (Centerplate's words) warrants a stronger corporate response, a petition directed at its board can be found here.
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