Another tech CEO in hot water for insensitive comments

Tech CEO Mark Woodward appears to be the latest leader in the industry to draw public ire for his use of social media to express contempt for disadvantaged Bay Area residents.

In a public Facebook conversation about unauthorized vendors allegedly selling produce on street corners in San Jose’s tony Willow Glen neighborhood, the Invoca CEO said he would destroy the vendors’ fruits and harass them in other ways if they attempted to operate near his home.

In a now-deleted post, Woodward wrote, “If that was my house, I would go out there and make their life miserable. I would do whatever it took to make them leave. If that meant destroying some of their produce, or standing out there with signs to chase everyone away, Or [sic] just making them very uncomfortable, I would do that in a heartbeat.”

Invoca — specializing in capturing analytic data from customers’ cellphone calls, according to the company’s website — has offices in San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara and Boulder, Co.

Responding to an interview request, an Invoca spokeswoman claimed the company had been unable to reach its CEO for comment.

The conversation took place on “Willow Glen Charm,” a Facebook page owned by local Realtor Holly Barr. The debate began shortly after Barr posted a message from an anonymous resident who was uneasy about the presence of fruit-sellers on the busy corner adjacent to his or her home.

“… we now have complete strangers watching our homes, knowing what time we leave for work, what time our kids leave for school and what packages arrive from Fed Ex or UPS,” read the anonymous post.

The author of the post claimed police response to their complaints had been inadequate and that fruit-sellers had urinated in a neighbor’s yard, and also implied a recent home burglary might have been connected to the street vendors.

The San Jose Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

When Woodward’s initial comments drew heated criticism, the CEO doubled down, claiming he had previously driven off a family of recyclers.

“I had a family, not from our neighborhood who was constantly digging through the recycle bins in our neighborhood illegally,” Woodward wrote. “I confronted them rather aggressively and they have never been back.”

Some commenters, who noted that fruit vendors are generally Latino immigrants, accused Woodward of racism — a claim he vehemently denied.

Woodward is not the first Bay Area tech employee whose comments about the disenfranchised have sparked outrage.

In 2013, startup founder Peter Shih’s essay on Medium, “10 Things I Hate About You: San Francisco Edition,” listed homeless people among his complaints, which provoked a strong backlash from the community.

Also in 2013, startup CEO Greg Gopman briefly became one of the most hated men in San Francisco after he authored Facebook posts describing The City’s homeless as “trash” and “degenerates” who did not understand it was a privilege to be in “the civilized part of town.”

And in February, startup founder Justin Keller became an object of scorn after he published an open letter to Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr, in which he described the homeless as “riff raff,” whose “pain, struggle, and despair” had marred his parents’ recent visit.

But members of the tech sector have been among Woodward’s loudest critics.

After arguing with Woodward, one San Jose tech worker who asked to remain anonymous, told the San Francisco Examiner, “I have a comfortable lifestyle now, but that doesn’t make me lose empathy for those that don’t.”

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