On Friday morning, I received confirmation that Steve Swasey is "unfortunately, no longer with the company." That quote comes from a receptionist who answered the phone at Netflix. I'll accept that as confirmation.
Often, when a VP of Corporate Communications leaves a company it's not news at all. I remember when I used to cold call CEOs and VP's of Sales. We were under strict instructions to not pitch the (expletive).
Warning: Depending on your company's culture, that link is not work material. I include it because it perfectly sums up the way many people view the role of company spokesperson and VP of Corporate Communications. You don't talk to Nancy Sinatra, you talk to Frank!
Back in the day, as the clip illustrates, that corp. comm. role was commonly held by women. There was no need to pitch them on anything. Within the context of a company, their job was simply to keep you away from the people who matter - the decision makers.
Over the years, the function of the position has evolved. Irrespective of sex or gender, I have dealt with some pretty powerful and more-than-competent PR and Media Relations types at companies ranging from Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) to Pandora (NYSE:P). At Netflix, Swasey filled that role and he filled it well.
In some corners, he became a bit of a household name. While he has been the mouthpiece of the company for some time, he really took the spotlight last year after Reed Hastings birthed Qwikster, promptly killed it and instituted a price increase. To get to Hastings or to get any information out of Netflix, for that matter, you had to go through Swasey.
To call him a central figure in the company is not an overstatement. Now he's gone. And he joins a line of executives who have bailed company over the few years, most recently former VP of Investor Relations Deborah Crawford and CFO Barry McCarthy.
What does it all mean? It's tough to say, particularly when we have no color on the circumstances surrounding Swasey's departure. I would not be shocked to see a Friday at 5:00 p.m. press release with details or no official public acknowledgement at all from Netflix. In any event, it's worth keeping an eye on.
It's also worth taking note of a massive insider transaction involving NFLX. Director Jay Hoag of longtime Netflix investor, Technology Crossover Ventures, purchased 200,000 shares of NFLX at prices between $71.20 and $74.39. Obviously, that's a big deal.
I am working to find out what might be going on, but something tells me that something is cooking. At this point, I am just not completely sure what it could be. Stay tuned.
Disclosure: I am long P.