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Global Business Travel Association CEO placed on administrative leave

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June 18, 2020
By Walt Williams and William Ehart

The Global Business Travel Association’s board of directors announced early Saturday that CEO Scott Solombrino has been placed on administrative leave following preliminary results of a probe of allegations of staff harassment and inappropriate remarks.

"We have determined that further investigation is required in this matter," the board said in its June 20 statement. "We have taken this step to affirm that this inquiry has the necessary depth, that the reviewer has sufficient time to consider and corroborate facts and statements, and to give any and all concerned parties an opportunity to come forward.

"In order to ensure a fully transparent and independent completion of this review, we are placing our CEO Scott Solombrino on administrative leave. GBTA senior staff who previously reported to the CEO will now report directly to the executive committee of the board," the statement said.

The board said that it became aware of "allegations inconsistent with our commitment to professionalism and a respectful work environment" on June 8, and immediately launched an internal investigation. Subsequently, the board hired an outside attorney to conduct a probe. Based on preliminary results, Solombrino was placed on leave, the board said.

The industry news site The Company Dime first reported on the original investigation Wednesday, saying board members asked law firm Polsinelli to look into allegations made by former and current staff members. In a statement to CEO Update on June 18, the board said it was “aware of an anonymous, unsubstantiated complaint regarding some of its employees” and that it had initiated “a comprehensive, third-party review.”

“The GBTA Board has the utmost confidence in the organization's executive leadership team,” the board said at the time. However, it added that “GBTA stands fully committed to providing every one of our team members with a respectful work environment, a workplace free from all forms of unlawful harassment and discrimination.”

Among the alleged incidents that led to the review were remarks made by Solombrino during a limousine conference in 2019, before he was named GBTA’s top executive, and preserved on video. A review of the video led one limousine company—the Berlin, Germany-based Blacklane—to pull its booth from the association’s upcoming convention. In a letter provided to CEO Update, company CEO Jens Wohltorf said his “understanding of Mr. Solombrino’s intolerance and incivility gives us no choice.”

According to the letter, Solombrino at one point during a panel discussion told people who don’t like President Donald Trump to “go shit in your hat.” He also disparaged protesters who took part in a Women’s March the previous day: “And all the crazy broads protesting yesterday, 'We hate Trump.' Yeah, you don't have a job because of him, you lunatics. Crazy people!”

In addition, The Company Dime said it had obtained additional video in which Solombrino responded to a question from a female member of the audience by joking he would take her to the “Mile High Club.”

More recently, the news site said employees were troubled by Solombrino treatment of staff as GBTA reels from revenue losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He reportedly threatened to fire any staff who spoke about concerns the association may need to cancel an upcoming convention in Denver because of the virus.

Solombrino said in a statement prior to being placed on leave that he has done “my level best to treat my colleagues, clients and customers as I’d like to be treated—equally, with respect, professionalism, fairness and honesty.” However, he added “I’m far from perfect.”

“I’ve always tried to learn from mistakes—and not to make the same mistakes twice. To anyone offended by my tone or my words, you have my sincere apology. I am sorry,” he said.

The Alexandria, Va.-based GBTA and its members have been hit hard by the pandemic and the associated loss of business travel over the past few months. In an April CEO Update LIVE webcast, Solombrino said his group had laid off 38% of its staff.

Solombrino was a somewhat controversial hire when he first stepped into the corner office in 2019. As CEO of limousine company Dav El/BostonCoach, he had been a GBTA board member and president of the group’s Allied Membership Council in 2013 when some association members attempted to rewrite the bylaws to eliminate the council, setting off a round of infighting among membership.

Solombrino is also co-founder of the National Limousine Association. In an interview with CEO Update at the time of his hiring, he said what he learned about advocacy from that experience would aid him in his new role. He also pledged to push to expand the role of women in business travel and said he had no immediate plans to shake up the group’s staff.

“I’m a believer in that you have to maintain stability and the people who are here at GBTA earned the right to be here,” he said at the time.

Correction: This story originally misidentifed the location of Blacklane's headquarters.