Pieter VanBennekom's 1990 Q&A



Here's a Nov. 11, 1990, message reporting the results of a Nov. 8 presentation by UPI executive Pieter VanBennekom to the Los Angeles bureau staff:

177m
all (2takes)
vanbennekom meeting thurs 11-8 night in hc:
highpoints:
-- upi found additional two weeks' salary to keep staff during balloting
via the latest round of management firings, which included former
regional editor jacques clafin.
-- although the pay cut has been billed as a 90-day measure, only november
and december have been budgeted for, and january looks very iffy.
-- upi achieved "an infinitesimal" profit in the 4th quarter of 1989 by
selling its product to development ventures in the infotech "family."
-- no comment will be made on potential buyer or how the restructurers or
auctioneers are to be paid for their services.
-- pvb is saving the company hotel expenses by sleeping on airplanes during
the $1,700 cross-country lobbying tour.
-- pvb denied having any personal feelings for jacque clafin, insists he was
never demoted. instead "fresh blood" was necessary for position of pacific
region manager, hence eric kramer.
-- dr. earl brian's dream "has come unraveled" and "that information strategy
has come crashing down" because "nobody shares dr. brian's dream exactly as
he had it."
-- the 90-day plan includes some margin for stringers, expenses and overtime,
but not much. severance checks continue to be paid. other infotech companies
will also see belt-tightening.
q&a:
staff: how is it that in saturday's demand to put the wage cutback to a vote,
you said there was only enough money to make it to wednesday, but ONCE
THE UNION AGREED TO SUBMIT THE ISSUE TO MEMBERS, two weeks additional
SALARY IS NOW GUARANTEED? where did the new money come from or were
you lying during the negotiation?
(the question is a version of "were you telling the truth then, or are you
telling THE TRUTH NOW, and even if you are, how can we believe anything
you say in the FUTURE?"
pvk: "there is no inconsistency at all. if the union had not agreed to put
the question to a vote, there would be no point in trying to make it to the
16th. once they agreed to put it up to a vote, we ran the numbers again,
we had a very good cash collection that week and we said fine, we'll wait
two weeks for the vote to occur.
"there would have been no point in continuing past wednesday if they
refused to put it to a vote. once they agreed to put it up for a vote, the
whole thing became academic and it was off the table.
"in the original scenario we anticipated falling into the red on the
pay period ending the 16th. i fired some more managers. that's how i
could guarantee that we could get two more weeks."
pvb said he could not immediately recall how much money was saved
in personnel cuts or the cost of the current payroll. he asked for a
calculator, and momentarily found cuts of staff saved the company
$200,000 and cuts of management saved upi $180,000 per pay period.
however, he said, "cuts in management (budget) are much greater than
staff because the dismissals are in addition to the 35 percent pay cut.
staff: are three months' funding guaranteed?
pvk: "the scenario for the months of november and december have been
very exactly figured out. in january, if some other things kick in, it will
be very difficult to make it into january. but by january, the sale 
scenario should have cleared up, there should be letters of intent. by
christmas the intent is to have weeded out the buyers." (however, later
in the discussion january suddenly looks much brighter:) the goal is to
have a letter of intent by the end of december. january looks pretty good
but it has not been calculated out to the dollar.
staff: every month another press release was issued saying we were
inching OUR WAY TOWARD BREAK-even or even a profit, yet we are now
told the company HAS OPERATED AT A LOSS OF $2-3 million per month,
which is the lie?
pvb: "we were producing product of value to long term development
products. in an operating basis there was an infinitesimally small
surplus in the last quarter of last year. (the payments came from
several development products within the infotech family."
(earlier, pvb summarized the same concept, saying, "we basically
sponge off other companies.")
staff: (expressed frustration that expensive people may be getting
paid BIG BUCKS TO ARRANGE THE SELLOFF OF UPI ET AL.)
pvb: (claims no knowledge of how the restructurers, auctioneers and
assorted money-changers are being paid, but adds,) "nobody's getting
fat, there's no cash."
staff: what is your trip costing the company, could the money have
been used INSTEAD TO PUT A REPORTER, radio staffer or fotog aboard
air force one to continue basic coverage of PRESIDENTIAL TRIPS 
9!5#3294)$."
(pvb characterized such coverage as "special." staff called it "basic."
staff: why was jacques clafin demoted from pacific region manager
to director of ACADEMIC RELATIONS?
pvb: "that was one of the very painful decisions i have had to make in
the past few days. i have long thought upi was missing the opportunity
to get closer to the outside community. he was not demoted as such.
the management team wanted to combine the best of the old and bring
in fresh blood from the outside, people who would bring a fresh
perspective to it.
"i knew that eric kramer was available. i had heard very good things 
about eric and his previous engagement (it was not clear here if pvb
meant the pinetop, az nupe or rox). this is the kind of person that i
wanted to have effective
"jacques clafin (re his new position as director of academic affairs),
it was a perfect fit for him to do an outreach program to academia,
cementing relations with universities, and to instill in the next
generation of communicators and professionals in the information
industry the idea of upi, upi, upi. i wanted him to bring in a steady
stream of interns to work with us at all levels all over the country
and get experts from universities to write on our wires without actually
sending a reporter there to interview somebody. (for them) to write
theses on the topics of the day.
"i am honest with you. i have worked with jacques clafin for years.
there's absolutely nothing personal about it."
staff: (extreme skpticism expressed)
pvb: "i am not going to llsten to this shit. you are accusing me or
having personal feelings about jacques clafin. i have no personal
feelings about jacques clafin whatsoever. jacques clafin could have
contributed greatly to this program. unfortunately at this point we are
not going to permit outselves the luxury of long term development
projects.
"this is crisis time. we have to draw our wagons in a circle and i had
to make the very painful decisioin to let jacques clafin go."
  more
upi  11-09-90 11:06 aes

178m all (2ndtake) xxx clafin go. staff: who ran the company into the ground? pvb: there's no lack of victims or scapegoats that you can point your finger to, historic managements. . . the industry at large. . . it is a very unfortunate chain of events." (he reasserted the honorable intentions of management from scripps through dr. earl brian, adding he was aware of no activity that might be construed as wrongdoing, misappropriation, etc.) (there was much discussion of the earl brian dream to find other environments to sell information, as repackaged with the logo and that upi seemed to have found its deal home in the infotech family.) "that information strategy has been crashing down over the last month or so because of developments at infotech (and a) chain of events during which dr. brian's dream has come unraveled." (a sale of his "infotech empire" is necessary "most likely in pieces because it's very likely that nobody shares dr. brian's dream exactly as he had it." "i have been able to keep all of upi intact so far, for all of it to be sold hopefully together in toto. i will never get any credit for that, but that's all right. i do what i have to do. the first preference is as we are right now. "the radio network is one of our greatest problem children. it's not your fault, (to bob fuss and bob brill of hcr.) it is the way the market is right now. i feel very fortunate that the radio network is still with us. there were many voices that said shut it down right now." staff: will stringer payments, expenses, severance and overtime payments continue? pvb: salary calculations through the 17th include some overtime unless there is "some huge unanticipated bulge out there." (severance checks continue to be paid, as are expenses,) "which are on almost as high a priority as payroll." staff: what are former upi administrative personnel now on fnn payroll? pvb: "if you think this is just a maneuver to safeguard certain people from bad things happening, just stay tuned. fnn is also in a cash flow negative position. belt-tightening is planned there too. staff: what is the response to the surcharge request? pvb: "we have some encouraging reports from the field. the replies are very strongly in favor, no problems whatsoever. staff: are clients dropping the service? pvb: "we are entertaining a number of cancellations., which is still due to the announcement of our redirection of efforts to heavily populated areas (in which) we know we can produce product. leftover pvb quotes: "there's so much false information flying around." "if you want to go out on the street and take your memories away from here. (then vote no)." "i thought that people would welcome the opportunity to have this exchange of views." "the sale of upi hinges on us being alive. if we shut down for one day, there's nothing for sale." "dr. earl brian is not in the bahamas." upi 11-09-90 11:06 aes