Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne Resigns Amidst Unusual Circumstances
For two decades as the CEO of Overstock.com, Patrick Byrne has never been far from controversy. He posted elaborate theories on his personal website, railed against an unnamed Wall Street figure he named the Sith Lord and then, last week, delivered the most eyebrow-lifting tale of all. Byrne — operating on the advice, he said, of Berkshire Hathaway chief executive Warren Buffett — disclosed that he had been in a romantic relationship with Maria Butina, a woman accused of being a Russian spy who tried to infiltrate circles of political power before the 2016 presidential election. Byrne's statement, with its references to the “Deep State,” “Men in Black” and “political espionage,” sent his company’s shares sharply down and baffled investors. On Thursday, he resigned as Overstock’s CEO and chairman, saying his continued presence was complicating the company’s business relationships.
Total Retail's Take: Byrne has always been, shall we say, an eccentric leader, but his recent comments have led many to question his ability to run the online furniture retailer. He seems to be preoccupied with conspiracy theories rather than leading his organization in an increasingly competitive category, with the likes of Amazon.com and Wayfair taking market share from Overstock. In recent years, Byrne has shifted his focus from the retail side of Overstock's business towards blockchain technology. Through an entity inside Overstock called Medici Ventures, Byrne and his team began to invest in a number of blockchain companies. With Byrne now out of the picture — to a degree at least, as he still owns 15 percent of the company's stock and has a significant personal investment in one of the blockchain technologies Overstock has invested in — many analysts are forecasting the sale of Overstock's retail business, with potential suitors including Costco, Target, and T.J. Maxx. But with Byrne no longer leading Overstock, one thing is certain: the retail industry got a little less interesting in the last day.