The co-founder and chief executive of major cryptocurrency platform Kraken Exchange, has defended his controversial leadership, despite claims of instigating a company-wide “culture war”.
Jesse Powell, 41, has been lashed for his controversial views on gender identity and gender equity and boasted of running a “dictatorship”, with some employees accusing him of promoting “hurtful” beliefs, as reported by the New York Times.
Since co-founding the cryptocurrency exchange in 2011, Kraken Exchange has become one of the most widely used digital asset exchanges globally. Its success has elevated Mr Powell’s personal net worth to US$500 million ($A731 million).
While Kraken has not filed an initial public offering (IPO), which would give a more accurate indication of its valuation, reports via Currency.com from March 2022 place the company’s potential valuation between $A14.6 billion and $A29.2 billion.
Controversial Slack channels exposed
Despite the company’s success and glowing financial outlook, New York Times said the business had been rocked by a “culture war”. The claim was substantiated by five anonymous employees who accused the CEO of directly contributing to the conflict.
According to a recent investigation by the publication, Mr Powell has been accused of problematic workplace practices, including drafting a 31-page workplace culture document, which advocated “libertarian philosophical values” like “diversity of thought”. The document also negated vaccine requirements (citing bodily autonomy), and asked employees not to criticise comments as being “toxic, hateful, racist, x-phobic, unhelpful, etc.”, The Times reported.
Mr Powell was also accused of creating a Slack channel called “debate pronouns”, where he challenged people who asked to be referred to as pronouns that differed from their biological sex.
Kraken employees claimed Mr Powell asked in the chat: “If you can identify as a sex, can you identify as a race or ethnicity?”
Following on he asked: “Who can refer to another person as the N-word?” claiming that it “wasn’t a slur when used affectionately”.
The internal turmoil culminated in Mr Powell issuing an ultimate to employees. Dubbed the “Jet Ski Program”, he asked people to commit to the terms set in the workplace culture document. Those who didn’t were given two weeks to resign from the company, with four months of pay on offer.
‘Back to dictatorship’
According to tweets from mid-June, Mr Powell said the “few heated debates” have led to 20 out of 3200 people quitting, something he appeared to be nonplussed about.
“60 per cent have been with the company for less than 6 months. So, no biggie, except 20 unhappy people can sap the productivity out of another 400 with little effort,” he tweeted on June 15.
Instead he blamed the misalignment on rushed hiring and a poor cultural fit.
Ultimately, he announced a “back to dictatorship” way of running Kraken.
“Problem is I’m way more studied on the policy topics, people get triggered by everything and can’t conform to basic rules of honest debate. Back to dictatorship,” he tweeted.
Speaking to Protocol this week, Mr Powell said that under 5 per cent of Kraken’s 3200-strong workforce took up his offer to exit the company via the Jet Ski Program and take the four months of pay, adding that “less than 1 per cent took it for stated culture or mission differences”.
Defending his leadership, the tech CEO described himself as a “very transparent person,” adding that he doesn’t regret the cultural turmoil Kraken has undergone.
“I wouldn’t go back and change my attitude about it. I don’t want to become completely, fully censored,” he said.
“I think there are probably some things that could have been said more politically, but I think that’s not really me.”
While he admitted that it was an “extreme example,” Mr Powell compared his employees to themepark characters at Disneyland, claiming that “we all put on some kind of act in the workplace. We have our work persona”.
“Your job is to be Mickey Mouse and make everyone believe that you’re Mickey Mouse and to put your own identity in the back seat while you’re in the theme park,” he said.
“And you can be whoever you want when you leave.”