Cosgrave’s position will be untenable when the corporate tide turns

Paddy Cosgrave has had some amazing and unforgettable moments in his career so far.

He has led the growth of the small technology meetup from humble beginnings in Dublin in 2009 to a series of hugely influential events held annually around the world.

He regularly shared platforms with world leaders, top global executives, film stars, sports stars and other celebrities.

In the process, he also became very rich.

But this weekend, the 41-year-old’s career took an extraordinary and memorable turn that no one would have predicted just over a week ago.

In large part, the Web Summit co-founder built the successful Web Summit brand (certainly in the early days) on his ability to talk and connect people in corporate life.

But his controversial words about Israel’s response to the conflict in Gaza last week only drove a wedge between Cosgrave and Web Summit, on the one hand, and his most influential supporters and partners, on the other.

From the responses to the (now deleted) posts that Mr Cosgrave made on X over a week ago, it became very quickly clear that he had caused considerable hurt and anger to many.

These people included entrepreneurs from Israel, which has one of the strongest tech startup ecosystems in the world, as well as key executives from the US who have long supported Web Summit.

They said that in light of the comments, they are no longer prepared to participate in next month’s event.

But instead of immediately realizing the enormity of the consequences of what he had done and backing down immediately, Mr. Cosgrave dug in his heels.

If the backlash had been limited to a small group of people, the CEO might have been able to weather the storm.

Logo of the Web Summit in Lisbon in 2021

However, despite a belated apology from Mr Cosgrave on Tuesday, when large corporate partners and participants such as Intel, Siemens, Google, Meta and Amazon began to leave, the situation led to a complete crisis for Mr Cosgrave and the company.

And ultimately, as the trade tide began to turn, Cosgrave’s position became untenable.

To address the damage to the company and its events, Mr. Cosgrave, who owns 81% of the company, had to put himself at odds with Web Summit.

As he put it in his resignation statement: “Unfortunately, my personal comments distracted from the event, our team, our sponsors, our startups and the people who participate in it.

“Once again, I sincerely apologize for the harm I have caused.”

The company says that despite the unusual turn of events, the Web Summit will take place in Lisbon in mid-November as planned.

It will likely be a more muted event, however, given that many of the key speakers and companies who will be there to listen and meet will no longer be there.

It’s unclear what the future holds for the event and the company after November and Paddy Cosgraves’ leadership, it’s too early to tell.

The concern of the employees of the 300-employee company is understandable. Cosgrave reportedly told them yesterday that the company was in good financial shape and reminded them that it had weathered worse crises in the past, including the pandemic.

This time, however, is different because the entire controversy is solely the work of Mr. Cosgraves.

He may be well known for expressing his opinions, publicly challenging prominent figures, and taking controversial positions on certain issues.

This time, however, a serious miscalculation cost Paddy Cosgrave dearly.

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