A Utah tech mogul has become the internet’s latest corporate villain after scolding his employees on a video call filled with strange and tone-deaf sound bites.
The CEO, James Clarke—who founded digital marketing firm Clearlink in 2001—told employees this month that he had run out of patience with griping about a new return-to-office policy, which mandated four days in-person per week for most workers within 50 miles of headquarters.
“I took it and I listened and I was kind and I responded with kindness, but no more,” he said, as Vice News previously reported. “You have misinterpreted my kindness for weakness.”
During the call, Clarke championed his own work ethic, challenging “any one of you to outwork me.” “But you won’t,” he said.
He also acknowledged one employee who “went and sold their family dog” in order to honor the new requirements, adding that it “breaks my heart as someone who’s been, you know, at the head of the humanization of pets movement in other businesses that we’ve built.”
Clarke criticized members of his staff for supposedly failing to pull their weight, singling out quiet quitters, developers he suspected were working multiple jobs at once, and those he claimed were doing virtually no work at all.
“In one month this year alone, I got data that about 30 of you didn’t even…crack open laptops,” he claimed.
The CEO blasted content writers he believed were using artificial intelligence to complete their work. “I can do that in about 30 minutes of an eight-hour work day,” he said. So, he continued, “let’s put out 30 to 50 times our normal production.”
Clarke conceded that the new policies would be challenging for parents left without childcare, saying he and other leaders had “tear-filled” conversations about the issue. But in the end, he didn’t believe that the vast majority of workers could simultaneously fulfill professional and caregiving needs.
“Some would say they’ve even mastered this art, but one could also argue that generally this path is neither fair to your employer nor fair to those children,” he said. “I don’t necessarily believe that,” he quickly added, then reversed course, saying that only “the rarest of caregivers” could adequately juggle competing responsibilities.
“I believe that the data will also support this in time,” he said. He then again seemed to contradict himself, declaring that data can be “tortured” until it tells “us exactly what we want to hear.”
Clarke also took time to call out some of his critics on staff, who he said had attacked his faith and where he went to college. (He attended Brigham Young University, which is associated with the Mormon church.) He made sure to emphasize that he was not referring to Harvard or Oxford, “two universities of which I’m an alum, but which were also founded and operated under the Judeo-Christian ethic.” (He attended Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program for business execs.)
In a statement, Clearlink said that “Clarke could not be more excited about the future of the company that he founded over 20 years ago,” and the business appreciates “the efforts of all of our committed team members—which includes those who work in office and those who will continue to work remotely—as we accomplish our best work together.” A spokesperson for the company declined a request to interview Clarke.
With his recent comments, Clarke joins other executives who have made headlines for ill-conceived video calls with employees. Earlier this week, the CEO of furniture company MillerKnoll went viral after lambasting workers upset about lost bonuses, telling them to leave “pity city.” She issued an apology to her staff on Tuesday.
And in 2021, the founder of online mortgage lender Better.com caused a media frenzy when he fired hundreds of workers at once in a brutal Zoom call.
Clarke is currently in his second stint at Clearlink. He sold the company in 2011 for an undisclosed sum, and it was resold in 2016 for roughly $207 million. He took over as CEO again in 2022.
The Idaho native had always aspired to be rich. “As a young boy, I was different from my friends,” he once told UtahValley360. “They wanted to be Michael Jordan and wear the cool black and white shoes. I wanted to own the Bulls!”
A portion of Clarke’s comments this month were uploaded to YouTube, though the video has since been removed, since Clearlink’s parent company filed a copyright claim to have it taken down.