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The inside story of Dave Clark’s tumultuous last days at Flexport

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Dave Clark (L) and Ryan Petersen (R)

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On Sept. 13, Flexport founder Ryan Petersen took the stage at North America’s premier supply chain conference in Phoenix. It was exactly a week after he’d forced out his hand-picked successor as CEO, ex-Amazon executive Dave Clark, so Petersen could once again run the show.

Sitting in the first few rows of attendees was Clark, the man he’d ousted just a year into the job. Petersen was surprised that he showed up, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Days earlier, Petersen had excoriated Clark, alleging he’d secretly expanded the company’s headcount and taken on unnecessary leases without Petersen or the board’s knowledge. On X, formerly known as Twitter, Petersen wrote, “Strategic Plan, Day 1: Make better decisions!”

With Clark sitting a few feet away, Petersen struck a different tone.

“I think we’re going to look back and go, ‘Wow I’d probably do that all over again because of the progress that we’ve made,'” Petersen said, in an interview on stage.

Doing it over again would seem to suggest hiring Clark wasn’t a bad decision. Petersen went even further, personally commending Clark for orchestrating the $1.3 billion purchase of Deliverr from Shopify, picking up supply chain technology for last-mile deliveries. That deal was announced in May.

“I’m very, very lucky because I wouldn’t have had the courage to go and do that acquisition, but I give all the credit in the world to Dave Clark,” Petersen said. “There’s no one probably in the world who would be better at running that last mile e-com fulfillment network. Personally, I don’t have any experience and I would’ve been pretty intimidated to try and go pull that off.”

The mixed messaging from the 43-year-old Flexport founder underscores the dysfunction surrounding the sudden firing of Clark, who previously spent 23 years at Amazon and built its mammoth logistics network on the way to becoming one of Jeff Bezos‘ top deputies. It’s also indicative of a bigger challenge facing Flexport, whose software is designed to simplify the process of transporting goods. The company was valued at $8 billion by private investors in early 2022, just as the economy was turning and the 10-year tech bull market was coming to an end.

As a high-valued company backed by powerful VCs, Flexport has been trying to simultaneously operate in Silicon Valley startup growth mode while also restraining expenses to reflect the new economic realities and to cope with supply chain bottlenecks.

This account is based on conversations with people close to Clark and Petersen. They requested anonymity to discuss confidential interactions. Their perspectives have been corroborated by internal documents and communications reviewed by CNBC.

Petersen has publicly said Clark overspent, overhired and overpromised, something his allies echoed to CNBC. He burned through cash and kept Petersen in the dark about key financials and an ambitious expansion into providing end-to-end supply chain…

Read More: The inside story of Dave Clark’s tumultuous last days at Flexport

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