Saturday, December 12, 2009

Self-Serving Corporate Weasel

In 2007, Fiserv, Inc. acquired CheckFree Corporation for more than 4 billion dollars. The founder, chairman and CEO of CheckFree, Pete Kight, became the Vice-Chairman of Fiserv, Inc., and was appointed to the board of directors. He’s been quiet for a couple of years, learning which buttons he can push and finding ways to spend his cut of the 4 billion dollars.

On Tuesday of this week, Fiserv employees (there are 20,000 of them) were surprised to receive the following e-mail message from Mr. Kight:

    From: Fiserv Corporate Communications
    Sent: Tuesday, December 08, 2009 2:34 PM
    To: [OMITTED]
    Subject: Message from Pete Kight: An Opportunity to Share in Success

    My fellow associates:

    Through the good fortune of working with associates such as you, I have had the opportunity to acquire a winery, Quivira Vineyards, in the Dry Creek Valley appellation of Sonoma, CA. As many of you know (because you've had to suffer through some of my impassioned discussions on the subject), my time in the vineyards and winery – as we meet the biological challenges, chemistry and artistic challenges in winemaking, and physical nature of the work – is a significant juxtaposition to the daily work I share with you in the world of technology. Because of Quivira's marvelous location in the inland coastal foothills, the all organic-biodynamic vineyards, the opportunity to work with a world-class winemaker, and the surprising success of the resulting wines so far… I feel very fortunate.

    For quite a while I've been thinking about a way to share my gratitude with those who have worked beside me and helped me create this marvelous opportunity. After all, it is all that we have developed together in leading financial services technology over the years that made Quivira possible for me. There is always an open invitation to any associate who finds an opportunity to head north out of San Francisco to visit the winery, to have a personal tour, and to experience personal wine tasting. But recognizing I won't be able to thank too many people that way, and in keeping with our technological heritage, the opportunity to extend thanks to all of you recently presented itself when we updated and upgraded the website. Effective today, any Fiserv associate who wants to purchase any wine from can enter a special code at checkout, and 20 percent will automatically deduct from the price of the wine. The code is: [OMITTED]

    Please note that this isn't a solicitation. The wine will all sell out and I'm not trying to boost sales. The 20 percent represents my margin, and is simply my way of saying "thank you" to everyone who helped me build this company over the past 25+ years. You should feel as if you have a bit of a stake in making Quivira possible, and this is the best way I can think of to share it with you.

    Thanks for making it all possible.

    Pete Kight
    Vice Chairman

I’m always delighted to see examples of corporate executives waving their private parts in public. Mr. Kight, sensing a free marketing opportunity, used the Fiserv corporate mailing list to broadcast an open solicitation to people who depend on him to make their mortgage payments. Fiserv explicitly prohibits workplace solicitation by employees, as described in the following policy statement:

    Workplace Solicitation

    Fiserv business unit or corporate management may periodically allow selected non-profit organizations to solicit voluntary contributions from, or distribute information materials to, Fiserv associates in the workplace. Any actual or implied pressure to make such a contribution or accept such information materials constitutes harassment under the Code. Workplace solicitation or information distribution not approved by business unit or corporate management is prohibited because it may pose conflicts of interest, create discomfort among solicited associates, and cause distraction from normal business operations.

Mr. Kight is indeed fortunate, because can simply approve his own solicitation, enabling him to flaunt his wealth and engage in personal sales activities with impunity.

His arrogant declaration that it’s not a solicitation merely serves to illuminate the fact that it is. But I'm especially fond of his attempt to "spin" the ugly sales pitch as a gilded thank-you note. It comes off cheap and tasteless, much like I expect the wine to be.


Bruce Coltin said...

It was so transparent, it was actually funny. Here's a guy who thinks he smarter than everyone.

Holden said...

It's like the modern eqivalent of "let them eat cake"
Did you see the vanity plate of MOrgan Stanley Vice Chairman Rob Kindler?
You have to marvel at the level of arrogance.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, none of you know Pete. You have not been with him from the start in 1981... I'm sorry that you are so angry.

Anonymous said...

The wines get great reviews from sommeliers and the wine magazines.
You should try a bottle!

Anonymous said...

I work in the wine business and appreciate the accomplishments Quivira has made to Dry Creek Valley by farming organically, supporting local farmers, restaurants and other establishments. This is actually a very nice offer from a boss. To be extended a 20 percent discount on an excellent product is not a solicitation, it is a gift. No one is obligated to purchase the wine. I know it is rough in the corporate world, and agree that there is much callousness, however I don't think this is an example.

burton said...

Anonymous - good joke. In a year after denying employees raises or bonuses - this shows an executive with either no awareness or no heart. I don't care what he has done before this. This time, he has angered 20,000 of the people who follow the rules that he can apparently choose to ignore.

Anonymous said...

Why so angry? There would be no Checkfree/fiserv without Pete inventing the software on a Tandy computer 30 ago and living for years on a shoestring while everyone laughed at his paperless money idea. Without his brains and sacrifices no one there would have a job. And now he takes that same literally dig in the dirt hard work ethic and personally turns a mediocre winery into a great one. And then offers to sell the wine he loves to you at his cost?
Oh the horror and shame in that!

Kamikaze said...

Anger? No one's begrudging his accomplishments. It's a good thing that he was able to make Checkfree a huge success, and to continue that success with a winery. I hope he enjoys the same success in that endeavor.

The issue here is his (ab)use of Fiserv's corporate email system to solicit an alcohol sale to the employees. I'm pretty sure if he sent the email from Quivira's email server, the Fiserv spam filter would bounce it. Unless, of course, he directs the IT staff to add Quivira to the whitelist.

If "To be extended a 20 percent discount on an excellent product is not a solicitation" is a gift...what if the product is still mediocre? Not a gift?

Webster's defines gift as: something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.

Webster's defines discount as: a reduction made from the gross amount or value of something: as a (1) : a reduction made from a regular or list price (2) : a proportionate deduction from a debt account usually made for cash or prompt payment b : a deduction made for interest in advancing money upon or purchasing a bill or note not due.

So...the "gift" IS the "discount", but the only way to realize the gift is to purchase. Therefore, not a gift. When I give gifts, my costs aren't covered. But, I did buy it at a discount.

Anon...why so defensive?

If the email was a straight solicitation, I'd have more respect for him...but that first sentence of the last paragraph is telling. "I deny your reality and substitute my own."

It's a solicitation.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add that if you join most winery's wine clubs, you get 20% discounts. I take offense to this 'offer' or 'gift' for many reasons....

Anonymous said...

I can assure you that this email did indeed anger many employees. It continues to be a sore topic of conversation. In fact this blog is floating around the company.

Anonymous said...

Did any of you see today's Dilbert? I am a first hand witness that Mr. Adam's inspiration for that comic came directly from a disgruntled Fiserv employee. :)

Anonymous said...

The issue here is not over whether Pete Kight deserves to enjoy his success. The issue comes when jumps up on 20,000 hard working employees and tea bags them like that. I don't doubt in the least that he has earned his opportunities and good fortune. However, I do feel that even in the best of times an email like that one is inappropriate. Its inappropriateness is siginificantly amplified in light of the economic hardship many of us have suffered through these last couple years. I and my family have been hit particularly hard during these times and yet we are still fortunate compared to many. What Pete Kight does with the financial fruits of his lifelong labor is really his business and I again do not want to say I have any problem with him pursuing his passion in this capacity. However, flaunting and bragging that success in the faces of our multitudes who've been burdened with over work because of understaffing, constant fear of being the next lay-off statistic, drastically diminished retirement funds, rapidly declining quality of health benefits, a significant reduction in many other morale bossting company benefits, and many of the other difficult changes we've all been pressed to cope with I really feel is insensitive of Mr. Kight.

Anonymous said...

To the casual observer it came across as arrogant, and the part about how he struggled and suffered so much trying to think of how to thank everyone seemed pretty outrageous. But I’m willing to over look all that for the opportunity to be a bishop in a human chess game… and drink lots of wine!

Anonymous said...

If you knew Pete Kight, you wouldn't write such negative things. He is true American entrepreneur, a nice guy, and one who was probably truly trying to make a nice offer...I think those who said negative things missed the point...

Anonymous said...

Pete Kight's treatment of Dave Powell the founder of Torbreck Vintners in Australia in his takeover of that company only reinforces the belief that he is not to be trusted.