e-Dialog's New Boss Same as the Old, Old Boss? They Can Only Hope
By Ken Magill
Can email service provider e-Dialog get its mojo back under newly named president Simone Barratt?
That’s the question former employees--of which there are a slew—current employees, and other observers are asking as Barratt takes the helm of an operation with reportedly major morale problems and a recently developed cover-your-ass culture.
It wasn’t always that way. Under CEO John Rizzi, e-Dialog reportedly had a culture of open communication from management and personal empowerment.
“People felt empowered to make their own decisions,” said one former employee who didn’t want to be named.
“Rightly, or wrongly, John’s philosophy was hire smart people, make them happy and everything else would take care of itself,” said another former employee who didn’t want to be named.
Trouble reportedly started after Rizzi left the company in February. It isn’t clear whether he left the company of his own accord or was fired.
“Things started to go downhill from there,” said a former employee. According to multiple sources, after Rizzi left, communication from management came to a halt and people began feeling less empowered to make decisions and more inclined toward non-productive CYA behavior.
Rizzi’s departure came on the heels of the firings of chief marketing officer Arthur Sweetser and chief technology officer Ken Lajoie.
But the exits of Rizzi, Sweetser and Lajoie were nothing compared to what was about to happen.
Just days before e-Dialog’s parent GSI Commerce announced in March it had agreed to be acquired by eBay for $2.4 billion, GSI reportedly fired dozens of e-Dialog’s top executives in the U.S.
About 10 firings in the U.K. would follow.
e-Dialog’s public relations team refused to provide the number of management staff fired. Former employees peg it between 35 and 50.
An exodus of other employees followed.
“The atmosphere was terrible,” said one former employee who asked not to be named. “Anyone who could find a job did.”
As a result, the former manager said: “It was all Indians and no chiefs. There was no one there with any experience who knew how to run the company.”
Account managers reportedly had a particularly tough time.
“Every time someone left, they [remaining account managers] would be stuck picking up the added workload,” said another source who asked not to be named. “They would have clients on the phone yelling at them because things weren’t going the way they were supposed to.”
There is an e-Dialog alumni network on LinkedIn with 193 members dedicated to staying in touch and helping one another find work.
Interviews with multiple former e-Dialog employees and posts about the company on Glassdoor.com revealed a common thread: People were emotionally invested in e-Dialog and deeply saddened and mystified by the changes.
“I won't bother saying ‘bring back the old days’ because it won't happen, and with so many new people here, it'd be impossible anyway,” wrote one anonymous Glassdoor.com poster who claimed to be a current e-Dialog employee. “But there was a reason GSI picked us up for so much money a few years ago, and it was our culture that made us that company. It's baffling to those of us who survived the blood baths that e-D is being changed so much, and that so many GOOD, caring people have been allowed to leave.”
Some speculated that e-Dialog’s spring management massacre was financially motivated.
“They wanted to make the deal as profitable as possible,” said one source. “When eBay acquired the company in June, there were probably very few people left there making more than $100,000.”
Barratt, however, characterized the firings as a realignment.
In any case, it’s a bell that can’t be unrung. Or can it?
When asked via email what she intends to do to restore a positive working environment at e-Dialog, Barratt responded with the following:
“[W]e were in need of a reorganization to best strengthen our company for a successful future.
“A key area of focus for me will be to complete that reorganization in all regions. I know that with greater clarity around roles and responsibilities, with clear career paths, and with opportunities to innovate on behalf of their clients and be recognized for those efforts, employees will feel good about coming to work every day.
“As for management, I like to think I’ve always been approachable and available and I know that the three regional general managers: Christian [Wright, newly named general manager of e-Dialog Americas], Luke [Griffiths, newly named general manager of e-Dialog U.K.] and Darren [Fifield, general manager of e-Dialog Asia Pacific] are very much the same. I think this openness together with some other key internal promotions is what accounts for us having so many ‘boomerang hires’ in the last couple of weeks. It’s been really great to see some of our key intellectual assets return home to e-Dialog.”
According to Barratt, eight former e-Dialog employees have come back in recent weeks and “the phone is still ringing.”
She continued: “Transparency and openness will be a focus for 2012. A number of people have been working on the 2012 plan and this will be shared with all employees. I think it’s important everyone knows what we’re doing and where we are going – so we can all pull in the same direction. We’re entering a hugely exciting time for e-Dialog - we have big plans for investment in our technology and for the rollout of additional ‘engagement-marketing’ products and solutions will enable us to help our clients win. ‘Helping our Clients Win’ – is one of our internal rally cries that draws on our heritage and now will fuel our future.”
Without exception, every person interviewed for this piece said they believe Barratt is the best person for turning e-Dialog back into the open-communications, empowering company it once was.
“She’s the only one of the senior people [from old e-Dialog] left,” said one.
Prior to being named president of e-Dialog on Oct. 11, Barratt was president of GSI Global Marketing Services International, a position she was promoted to in May. Before that, she was managing director of e-Dialog International for 10 years.
“She’s a well-liked, well-respected, smart marketer,” said another former e-Dialog employee. “If anyone can turn things around, she can. [Appointing Barratt president] is the smartest thing they’ve done in a long time.”
A lot of people hope so.