It was two years ago (at about the same time I’m writing this post) that the POPstick St. Valentine’s Day Massacre went down. Every employee in this small but well respected interactive firm was brought into the middle of our office space by Fenway Park and told that most of the company would be laid off. While in and of itself, that’s quite a story, it isn’t the story
The news was delivered by Danny Kastner, straight off of his crushing defeat as a reality show contestant on season 3 of The Apprentice. And, the layoff was in the form of a reality game that could have only come from the fertile imagination of a network TV gameshow loser. Dan stood before us with a large stack of manila envelopes, and we were told that everyone in the company was going to get a packet. Some would receive a “letter of retention”, others a “letter of separation”. (As on TV presidential debates, applause were to be held until the end.)
As Dan went to call the first name, he looked and said, “There are no names on these envelopes!” A voice from the back of the room shouted, “Pass them out anyway! It doesn’t matter.” Apparently, David Wagner, our COO and lawyer by trade, had written the names in such small mouse type on the large envelopes that Dan couldn’t find them. Most of us were laid off, and the vast majority without any severance whatever. I was fortunate to get less than a month and a half’s salary as severance (after 5 years with the company).
While I found Wagner to be entirely despicable as a human being and the type of start up executive clearly out to maximize his profits at the expense of the company’s worker bees, I couldn’t help but admire the way he came out of this horrible situation a winner. He had a contract with serverence packages reminiscent of the ones being criticized in the news today where even with utter failure to achieve his responsibilities as a corporate executive, he would earn major bonuses. Moreover, he managed to move to an executive position in another company despite the fact that he, the VPs and Danny K ran a profitable business with clients like Microsoft and LYCRA into the ground.
If there is a silver lining to this story, it is that most of us came out better than we started. I, for one, learned a lot in my five years working with Dan. And the layoff allowed me to finish my CD and start a new band. Nevertheless, I’ll never be able to look at Valentine’s Day in the same way again!