Back in August, Gurbaksh "G" Chahal, the millionaire founder, CEO, and chairman of online ad network RadiumOne, was allegedly caught on tape viciously beating his girlfriend for half an hour, hitting her 117 times in his San Francisco penthouse. After his arrest, prosecutors charged him with 45 felony counts. But once their case began to unravel partly on a technicality—first the girlfriend chose not to cooperate, then a judge tossed the incriminating home security system footage from evidence, citing a Fourth Amendment violation—the district attorney’s office offered Chahal an easy deal.
Last week, he pleaded guilty to a pair of misdemeanors—one count of domestic violence battery and one count of battery, according to the San Francisco Business Times.* The marketing mogul was sentenced to three years probation, 25 hours of community service, a 52-week domestic-violence training program, and no jail.
In the meantime, Chahal’s company appears to be doing splendidly. RadiumOne is planning a $100 million IPO. It signed a partnership with Condé Nast. Because Chahal avoided any felony convictions, he will be allowed to remain on RadiumOne's board. He’s also scheduled to appear as a featured speaker at a fancy marketing conference. As Valleywag’s Nitasha Tiku noted yesterday, these “promising career developments occurred well after Chahal's arrest in August.”
This leads to an obvious question: Is it acceptable to invest in, or do business with, a company run by a man who has admitted to beating his girlfriend? I think there’s an equally obvious answer: No, it is not.
I don’t want to dwell too long on the specifics of Chahal’s case, because I’ve only read about it through news reports, and haven’t personally pored over the court filings. But at the very least he has now admitted to committing an act of domestic violence. RadiumOne has not responded to my request for comment. But he is still listed on its website as founder and chairman. I cannot imagine how Condé Nast, which makes much of its money off of women’s magazines, could justify partnering with RadiumOne if he remains there. And while I obviously can’t speak for Chahal’s female employees, I suspect not all of them are perfectly comfortable working for the man.
But just as a general principle, I don’t know how anybody can justify supporting a company that is run by someone with a recent history of domestic violence. At least not if you believe that where you spend money, or where you invest capital, is any kind of statement about values.
Some people make horrible mistakes. Some people have momentary psychotic breaks. Over time, maybe it’s possible to atone for them. But as a rule, men with a fresh track record of beating women shouldn’t be managing them. Female employees shouldn't have to answer to a superior with a threatening history of misogynistic violence.
That’s not to say such men don’t deserve a chance to do something else with their professional lives. But they absolutely 100 percent shouldn’t be the boss of a corporation. Certainly, as one astute Twitter user pointed out, if you believe Brendan Eich deserved to get the boot from Mozilla because he opposed same-sex marriage, you ought to be appalled by a case like Chahal’s. And if you were bothered by the Eich case, domestic abuse can at least offer a clear example of what should count as a fireable offense. Arguably bigoted personal beliefs might be one thing. Reprehensible personal behavior is another.
If what I’m saying sounds like common sense, it isn’t always treated that way in corporate America. One of the more famous examples involved former HBO CEO Chris Albrecht, who was fired in 2007 after being arrested and charged with attacking his girlfriend in a parking lot. It was quickly revealed that in 1991, HBO had paid at least $400,000 to settle allegations that he had choked a female subordinate. Then the Deadline Hollywood editor later reported that at the network had quietly covered up past incidents with women at the company.
I like to think we’ve come a long way from the time when a corporation would simply hush up that sort of thing. But in cases where there’s not much the company can do—say, a tech startup with a charismatic CEO-founder—it’s incumbent on investors and customers to take their money elsewhere. It’s the only decent response.
Update, April 25, 2014: After this post was published, Condé Nast contacted me to take issue with the phrase "partner." I had meant it in the sense that the two companies were doing business together. Condé felt like it made the relationship more involved than it was. But, good news, they're apparently reconsidering the deal entirely. Here's the company's statement: "Condé Nast is not and has never been an investor in or partner of RadiumOne. Our Britain division has a vendor relationship for sales software with the company, as do many other UK-based media companies. We do not condone abusive behavior and the UK company is reviewing its association." One hopes that "review" will end in a termination.
Update, April 26, 2014: The pressure on RadiumOne is growing. TechCrunch announced today that it was dropping the company as a sponsor for its New York Disrupt hackathon. Meanwhile, Re/code's Kara Swisher reports that RadiumOne's board is debating whether to remove Chahal from his position. The board, by the way, is entirely male.
Update, April 27, 2014: RadiumOne has fired Chahal. Read more here.
*Correction, April 25, 2014: A previous version of this post misstated the name of the newspaper that was the source of a report about Chahal's plea. It's the San Francisco Business Times, not the San Francisco Business Journal.