Thursday, October 06, 2005

Remember: "FELD" is a four-letter "F" word

I had a good run at FELD, I really did. In spite of everyone and everything I made huge personal and professional accomplishments.

For that, I thank only the man who hired me.

I've told this story a couple times, and I'm going to tell it again here. I'm going to be as true to my own memory as I can be. The only thing I will omit are names.

I need to go back to June of 2004 to give a little background. Our outgoing CFO of 8 years was replaced by our then VP of Finance (who become our new CFO). New CFO and my boss (Old CIO) never got along when they were peers, so shortly after New Years I was called up stairs and told that Old CIO had been walked out.

This sort of thing happens in companies -- public, private, government agencies -- management at any level wants to control what they can (their downline) so they often look for an opportunity to flex their muscles a bit in an area that they see as sub-standard for some reason. In our case, it was felt that we were too much of an expense across the board (or rather, for what the company was paying, they weren't getting what they expected). Now I've worked at a lot of places, and in my opinion this was all a perception issue because of how the accounting worked. This is a company that claims to be progressive, but the powers that be are clear: a dollar spent a moment too soon on anything other than show production is a dollar wasted (something I've been told many times by New VP of Finance, and a supposition proven many times in the past six months).

In March I had a chance to meet with a candidate for our New CIO (the "second choice" of the recruiter respresenting him). I had about 45 minutes to ask him about the gaps in his resume, answer some questions he had, shake his hand (a mistake when I later learned he doesn't wash his hands after using the urinal), and return to the grind. I knew this was all proforma, and when I returned from a business trip a couple weeks later he had already been there a week.

While on a business trip with New CIO in May, he opened up to me about some issues he had in dealing with my peers, and when I returned he took me out to lunch and asked me to help him plan our departmental reorg. I was a Director, reporting to a VP, with two stellar annual reviews under my belt, a department I had built from four semi-performers into seven superstars (mostly due to picking good people, I take almost no credit for their success), I was well liked in the organization and had a reputation for getting things done. We had about 35 people in all of IT, and while I had never done an entire reorg, I had done one for my group, I had done job descriptions and comp analysis, and more importantly I understood all the hurdles in our organization to get those things done and signed off.

I can't speak for New CIO, but I feel like I did probably 40-50% of the heavy-lifting for the IT Reorg (structure, compensation, etc). I reviewed and commented on the job descriptions he gave me, but most of those he borrowed from Infotech Advisor to stick to "industry standards", which I think is a fair move -- why reinvent the wheel? Honestly though, the only 100% original creation of his out of this was probably the Powerpoint presentation.

When we got the first draft of the org done, and there were now only two Directors instead of four, and seven managers instead of none, I asked him where he thought I would fit into this organization. He had made comments about his Directors not being Director material, so I asked "do you see me in the Applications Manager role?" and his response was "if you're interested in the Director position, I'd encourage you to apply for that instead."

Two things to think about: (1) in a reorg like this, you can't outright tell someone they have something even if you feel that's the case, and (2) he could have just been saying that, he told everyone to think big when applying. However, several more times during our work he made comments like "of my four Directors, three of them aren't Director material." He went out of his way to imply that I was in for that Director position.

We all had to reapply for our jobs when the reorg was announced, and since I was the only Director who (on paper) was qualified for both Director positions, I applied for both. All of this went down the week before Fourth of July, and we were told that we would know before the long weekend what the results were going to be. We had to update our resume and interview with him for our jobs, and when I went in he didn't even interview me -- he told me how everyone else's interviews had gone and when I asked if he had any questions he wrapped it up with "I don't think so, I think I'm comfortable with your capabilities and your work."

The Friday before Fourth of July, when we were all supposed to find out who got what, he decided to "work from home" but never told us in advance. I found out from his Admin Assistant while trying to track him down for a meeting we had scheduled.

On Monday morning, he came into my office sat down, and said "congratulations, you're the Applications Manager" to which I responded "well I didn't apply for that position." I told him I needed to think about it and he left, so I shot an email off to Human Resources:

From: theAlphaJohn
To: VP of Human Resources
Subject: IT Reorganization

VP of HR,
CIO met with me this morning to explain the outcome of the reorganization in IT, and I was notified that I did not get either open Director position and was presented with the Applications Manager as an alternative. In order for me to make an informed decision about my next step, I will need the following:

-A formal offer letter from Feld explaining the position I'm being offered and compensation
-A formal letter explaining my severance package:
-how long the transition period will be
-number of weeks paid
-benefit options
-if my Bonus will be paid out, and if so how much (all, a prorated amount, or none)
-any other stipulations that would be attached (if there is a boiler plate severance agreement I'd like to see it)

Once I have all this information, I will need a few days to review my options before I can accept or reject the position I'm being offered. I understand you're out of the office today and possibly tomorrow, but I'm available to discuss when you return if needed. Please let me know if you have any questions.


I asked HR, I CC'ed my boss so I wasn't doing anything behind his back, and I figured since I had been thrown a curve ball that what I was asking for wasn't unreasonable. The next day I received this response:

From: VP of Human Resources
To: theAlphaJohn
Subject: Reorganization Answers

Answers -
1. Your base pay will remain the same. Your MIP level will change to 10%.
2. Your severance based on your start date of 1/20/03 will be 6 weeks. You may choose lump sum payout or biweekly pays. Benefits will run through the last day of the month in which you receive your final severance check. STD/LTD and 401(k) are not icluded in severance.
3. Bonus eligibility is based on your position as of 12/31/05. If you choose severance, you will not receive MIP for 2004.
4. If you elect not to take the position a severance agreement will be presented to you.
5. Formal offer letters are not planned for the new positions.
6. New CIO will determine the effective date of the transition.

Vice President, Human Resources
Feld Entertainment, Inc.

Well that clears things up. Nothing in writing, either suck it up or get lost. I'm glad to see that HR is still an advocate for employees -- why would I ever want a union?

Shortly after getting this lovely message, New CIO shoots one to all of us:

From: New CIO
To: The Four Former Directors
CC: New CFO, VP of HR
Subject: New Positions


I have informed you all of your positions in my new organization. Formal offer letters are not planned for the new positions. I am about to announce these assignments to the rest of IT today. If I do not hear anything to the contrary by Tomorrow, July 7, I will consider these positions accepted. I am ready and anxious to move forward with my new operational plan. I hope you all are part of that team. If you elect not to take the position, a severance agreement will be presented to you. I will ask you to remain for a period to be determined, in order to effect an orderly transition. At the end of this period, you will be eligible for severance. If you choose to leave before the end of the transition period, you will be resigning without severance. If you choose severance, your severance will be two weeks pay, plus an additional two weeks pay for each full year of service based on your start date. You may choose lump sum payout or biweekly pays. Benefits will run through the last day of the month in which you receive your final severance check. STD/LTD and 401(k) are not included in severance. Bonus eligibility is based on your position as of 12/31/05. If you choose severance, you will not receive Bonus for 2005.

Ouch, talk about railroaded. Not really sure what to do and only having 24 hours to make a decision, I ended up stuck there. I was told by New CIO that I'd be involved in hiring my new Director and we'd move forward. The other three Directors, having much bigger severance packages to fall back on, all asked to leave and take their severance.

In a panic, New CFO asked two of the Directors to stay, and offered to grandfather their bonus and let them take their severance at any time in the future. The other Director and I got letters saying that our bonus was grandfathered, but nothing about severance.

A couple months of new structure went by, and while I was on a business trip candidates for the other Director (not mine) were being interviewed two of the Managers in that group. Three women came in and they interviewed all of them -- the one they didn't like became their boss, and the one they did like became my boss.


Let me get this straight: you advertise for and bring in candidates for a Director of IT Operations (servers, networks, phones, hardware) and you hire one of these candidates for Director of Business Solutions (Enterprise software and integration). How the fuck does that work? While I'm on a business trip I don't want to be on, two people who aren't in my group interviewed my new boss but I didn't, and I was promised when I got slighted that I'd be involved in that interview process.

Don't think of it as getting fucked out of a job you were promised, think of it as getting a Pirate Gym Teacher as your boss. The thing that amazes me is that not one of the four of us was qualified for either Director position (something that New CIO had decided before putting pen to paper). Forget about me for a moment, but VP of HR let New CIO demote an Iranian Man who had worked there 10 years and had a Masters in Computer Science and replace him with a white woman who had no degree, and he replaced an Algerian with a PHD in Economics and 18 years there with a white woman with a Bachelors degree. How EEOC compliant of them...

Fast-forward to this past October while everyone who said they were leaving was still "working out the transition", I went to our VP of HR a particular morning and asked him "if I wanted to leave, would I be eligible for my severance?" And he responded, "Yes, absolutely. Why are you even asking?" "Because the others have their severance in their letters and I don't." "It's not a problem, just tell New CIO and let me know when your last day is."

I walked upstairs into New CIOs office and told him that things weren't working and that I wanted to leave and take my severance. The conversation was calm, level, professional, and when I left his office the only point of contention was how long I'd be staying to work out a transition.

I took my group to lunch, and when I got back I had a voicemail:

this is an audio post - click to play

Hey John it's Kirk (VP of HR). Uh, I'm sorry I gave you bad information I spoke too soon before I actually read the letters that Neal (New CIO) gave to all four of you. Um you would not be eligible for severance if you were to leave. Any questions? Please feel give me a call. Thanks John, buh bye.

When back to VP of HR to ask what was up, and the excuses I got were:
(1) the reorg was three months ago (then why is the transition still going on -- why are the people who wanted out July 6th still here?)
(2) this is something we did special just for two of the Directors
(3) I was sent to training in July in anticipation of me staying (false: I was given this training as part of my compensation for 2005 in January when Old CIO was booted)
(4) sorry, you can't have your severance.

And how does a person handle a situation like that? Petulantly:

From: theAlphaJohn
Sent: Fri 9/23/2005 5:26 PM
To: New CIO, VP of HR
Cc: Gym Teacher Pirate
Subject: Resignation
Attachments: Resignation.pdf(185KB)

The original is with Gym Teacher Pirate. A pleasure as always gentleman.

In my experience, from what I saw, FELD Entertainment is a horrible company that treats its employees badly. We coined a few sayings while I was there:

"There are five ways to do things: the right way, the wrong way, the long way, the hard way, and the "Feld" way (which is a combination of the wrong way, the long way, and the hard way.)"

"Given the choice between 'good', 'fast', and 'cheap', Feld will always pick 'fast' and 'cheap'."

"Feld Entertainment will step over a dollar to pick up a dime."

FELD Related Links

Investigation into death of baby elephant Kenny
Forbes profiles K-Dawg
Animal trainer Gebel-Williams dies
The Greatest Vendetta on Earth
Roy of Siegfried and Roy critical after mauling
Peta calls on Siegfried and Roy to retire animals
Disney buys the Muppets
Circus performer falls to her death
Spanky the clown arrested on porn charges
President of PETA's will: "That my pointing finger be delivered to Kenneth Feld [the owner of Ringling Brothers] or to a circus museum, to stand as the "Greatest Accusation on Earth" on behalf of the countless animals who have been deprived of all that is natural and pleasant to them, abused and forced into involuntary servitude for the sake of cheap entertainment."
Skaters from Monsters Inc questions about Escort
DC City Paper: Karen Feld
USDA Report on Roy Horn's attack
Feld Lawyers fined for misconduct
PETA Demands necropsy of dead Siegfried and Roy elephant
Washington Post article on Pottker Lawsuit

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