The Sad Story of David Edmondson

Today, I wish to share the tale of a man with a troubled past, and of a company that used a very flimsy excuse to rid themselves of this man, all for the sake of signalling.

I call it…

 

The RadioShack Dilemma

A few months ago, I learned about the story of David Edmondson.

Edmondson is the CEO of a company called eRecyclingCorps, but is best known for his resignation from the CEO position at RadioShack (a company with $5 billion in revenue) after it became known that he’d never actually graduated from college, despite his claims to the contrary.

This seems natural enough. After all, who wants a liar at the head of their company? (I’m assuming here that RadioShack forced Mr. Edmondson to resign.)

But certain features of RadioShack’s decision start to look very strange when you view them in the context of Edmondson’s career.

 

When David Edmondson resigned, he was 46 years old. He’d been a VP or C-level employee of RadioShack for 12 years, and Advertising Age had named him one of the 100 best marketers in the United States. He’d been a successful marketing executive for a decade before he joined RadioShack. And after leaving RadioShack, he became the CEO of another electronics company!

Clearly, the man had chops. Or, at the very least, he was good at faking chops he didn’t have. And this was true of him whether or not he actually had a degree.

A simple fact that is easy to forget: Degrees can help you predict what someone’s skills are, but once you have actual evidence of their skills, the degree becomes irrelevant.

Now, you may be wondering: What was the nature of this fake degree? Was he lying about an MBA? About graduating summa cum laude from a top university with a BS in electrical engineering? Surely, he must have had relevant qualifications to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company?

Nope. Turns out that he’d faked a degree in theology. From an unaccredited California school called “Pacific Coast Bible College”, which now exists under a different name. He did attend the college for a while, but eventually dropped out to become a pastor instead of finishing his degree.

I’ll repeat that. Not only did Edmondson fail to acquire a degree that was completely irrelevant to his work at RadioShack — he dropped out of pastor school to become a pastor. That’s like someone dropping out of MIT to become the CTO of a software company. It doesn’t seem at all like a bad sign.

And yet, they kicked him out.

This may be the face of a liar. But does that matter?

 

Now, I’m not saying that RadioShack made the wrong decision. The company was losing money and closing stores at the time. And Edmondson was about to stand trial for drunk driving.

But the articles about him don’t talk about the drunk driving. They do mention the fake resume. The media seems to see the fake resume as the real problem, and the board of RadioShack was happy to play along.

Perhaps the real problem was that Edmondson had lied on his resume? Well, maybe. But I can imagine lots of morally sketchy things Edmondson might have done that wouldn’t have gotten him fired. If he’d had an affair, I suspect that he’d have been perfectly safe.

My thesis here is that the U.S. treats college degrees as though they are holy writ, to ill effect in matters both large (the cases of David Edmondson and Marilee Jones) and small (every police officer forced to sit through a remedial algebra class). I’ll explore this idea more deeply in my next post.

 

Postscript

But first, a few notes to finish off this rant.

 

Edmondson must have an incredible story to tell.

Seriously. I’ve been told all my life that I’d have to go to a great college to have any chance at becoming a corporate leader. But somehow, this guy went from Bible college dropout to CEO.

I’d rather hear that story than the story of how Steve Jobs dropped out of college and yadda yadda yadda. Jobs was a computer geek who succeeded in an industry with notorious disregard for credentials. Edmondson was a salesman who somehow fought his way to the top of a corporate world where credentials are hugely important. Walter Isaacson should write his biography.

 

This tragic tale has a silver lining.

Props to Radioshack for hiring Claire Babrowski as Edmondson’s temporary replacement. (She later became the CEO of Toys “R” Us.)

Babrowski, in a parallel story, began flipping burgers at McDonald’s when she was 16. Thirty years later, she’d become McDonalds’ highest-ranked female executive. That’s another story I’d rather hear than the story of Steve Jobs.

 

Irony is alive and well in the digital world.

In the course of my research, I found a site selling essays on ethical leadership to unethical business students who don’t want to write their own papers. David Edmondson was the subject of one such essay.

 

7 thoughts on “The Sad Story of David Edmondson

  1. My name is David Edmondson and I do have a genuine degree in Pure Maths and Chemistry. Though I worked for some good international companies (Pilkington Glass, British Aerospace, PricewaterhouseCoopers) I never rose to a status anywhere near CEO, nor did I deserve to. The degree is a short term shortcut ticket to get you started (and so well worth having) but it is delivery in the job in the long term that warrants high status. Even then great achievement can be blown off course by the wrong career choice, lack of opportunity, commitments other than work, … The aforementioned liar David Edmondson earned his high status on the job, a small error of judgement in an avalanche of good ones is an embarrasment not a flaw.

    • He did however graduate from Harvard University’s Executive management program to the tune of 80,000.00. That amount is worth 2-3 degrees.

  2. He was caught in his lie because during a previous drunk driving incident the reporter had looked into his background and came up with some questions. At the second drunk driving incident (and from police records he wasn’t a little drunk he was at a dead stop in the middle of the road). The reporter dug deeper and found No Record of a degree from said bible school.
    One certainly knows whether they achieved a degree or not. It was a calculated lie.
    What is sad is the many employees fired or let go from radio shack with little or no severance and the ceo was paid a fortune.

    • Thanks for the added context. I don’t remember anything about DUI charges (links would be helpful!). But it’s a little sad that, at least in many cases, the fake college degree was apparently a matter of more interest to the media than multiple instances of drunk driving. (The degree made for a more interesting headline, I’m sure, but still…)

  3. You know, I was at RadioShack in the 90’s working for Dave Edmondson on his marketing team. He and Leonard Roberts were the perfect mix and match pair. Both had the presence and command that made you want to listen and believe what they spoke and so carry out the tasks that completed the needed purpose. I find humor in the fact that for all the worry over Dave not having a degree from that Baptist college, not once in my 8 years with the company did they ask him to prey or offer spiritual guidance in behalf of the company. But he did with outstanding leadership help guide RS through what turns out to be their prime form from about 1994 to 2002. In the words of Toby Kieth, look at me now… only now, it is RS look at you now… I do not know, maybe Dave was not the CEO answer at the time he left RS, but I do know he is a great marketing mind and leader while I was there, maybe his degree is better described as inspiration from God if not from that Baptist college. Whatever the means, he was qualified and excelled during the time I was with RS, understand that is my message to you all.

  4. I’m receive english at my university, I’m from Nicaragua so my native language is spanish, I say this for you to forgive my mistakes; anyway this week I’m having a presentation about this man and I just wanted to say thank you, this article has been very helpful for me.

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