April 18, 2003 at 7:09 pm #20753Unknown,UnknownParticipant
Sierra was acquired in 1996.
Even though Sierra had grown consistently and profitably for nearly 20 years under my guidance, the new owners elected to sideline me rather than to let me continue running Sierra.
In 1999, the decision was made to close the Oakhurst offices, the original birthplace of Sierra. This is my letter to the “troops” explaining, as best I could, how things had gone so wrong.
February 23, 1999
Dear former Sierra employees:
Roberta and I wish to express our deepest sympathies for the recent loss of your jobs. Hopefully, it will not be long before you resume work at Sierra in Seattle, or at some other company.
According to tradition, I’m supposed to say something uplifting and motivational to help everyone feel better. Unfortunately, I have failed at this task. There is really nothing good that can be said. This is a sad ending to Sierra’s twenty-year operating history in Oakhurst, which at one time, represented over 550 Oakhurst-based employees. This story should have had a happy ending, but instead has had a long string of bad news concluding with the shutdown yesterday of all of Sierra’s Oakhurst-based product development activities.
The problems began with the move of corporate to Seattle. The move to Seattle was mandated for several reasons, primarily due to the difficulty we were having recruiting senior management staff and software engineers. The relocation, although it was painful for Oakhurst, was instrumental in our tremendous growth from 1993 through 1996. I remain convinced that this relocation was the right decision for Sierra, and that we would not have prospered without it.
I can’t say the same about either the sale of The ImagiNation Network (INN) in 1993, or the sale of Sierra itself in 1996. When Sierra started INN in 1991, it was a decade ahead of its time. After investing millions in INN, Sierra found that it did not have the financial resources to support INN’s continued operations. In 1993, AT&T sought aggressively to acquire INN, promising to market the service and grow the company. Unfortunately, AT&T lost interest in INN and sold it to AOL, who to my great disappointment, shut INN down. Sierra, as you know, was purchased by CUC International in 1996. Because CUC was offering to buy the company at a price roughly 90% higher than it was trading, the decision was out of management’s hands. At the time of the purchase, we did believe that through consolidation with several Sierra competitors (Blizzard, Knowledge Adventure, Davidson and others), Sierra would become a much stronger company. We had good reason to believe that the acquisition would cause us to grow faster, not shrink. Unfortunately, CUC elected to transfer control of the company to Davidson, and shut down several groups at Sierra. Later, as we all know, CUC was merged with another company, HFS, to form the Cendant corporation, with roughly 12,000 employees. A few months after this merger it was discovered that someone, or possibly some group of people, within the former CUC organization had been fraudulently preparing financial statements. The actions of this handful of people, who shall hopefully get their due, caused the plunge in Cendant’s stock price, and wiped out the net worth of many HFS and CUC employees, including many of you, as well as much of my own. Cendant was sued by its shareholders, CUC’s former management team was terminated and the decision was made to sell the software business. It should surprise no one that morale suffered through all of this anarchy, and although I have not seen Sierra’s financials for several years, my assumption is that the recent consolidation of operations is driven by a quest for restored profitability and stability.
If this story were written as a book, the publisher might seek to classify it as “Fantasy”, “Science Fiction” or even “Horror”. It is much too outrageous to be true. But the bad news is that these events really did happen.
I console myself in the following way, and perhaps it will help you to cope with what has occurred. Let’s imagine that a stranger had walked up to any of us, on the street, in 1979, and said: “Would you like to move to one of the greatest cities on earth? While you are there, you can play a key role in creating a company that just about everyone will know and respect. Your grandchildren will be amazed when they learn that you once worked there. You will be the envy of your peers, because they will know that your team created the largest collection of hits ever to come from one company. There will even be years when you will have played a role in over half the products on the industries top ten lists! You will be surrounded by incredibly intelligent, hard working people, who will work 20+ hours per day, when it takes it to get the job done. And, you will have more fun than you ever thought possible. There’s only one catch though: “This will only last for twenty years.” Even knowing it wouldn’t last forever I would have followed that stranger anywhere. I’m disappointed that it didn’t last forever, but, a 20 year ride on the greatest roller coaster on earth beats the heck out of life in the slow lane any day. Life may never be the same, but it also isn’t over, and we all have some great memories we shall never forget.
Good luck, and I miss you all.
April 18, 2003 at 7:13 pm #20754Unknown,UnknownParticipant
(Here’s my letter to the local newspaper asking that they run my goodbye letter) Morgan Voorhis February 24, 1999
Here is my letter to the troops at Sierra. I know it is long, but it is important to me that it not be paraphrased. If you can’t run it as free editorial, let me know and I will pay to run it as an advertisement. I would also prefer it if you could read to me any quotes you attribute to me within your article. My reason for this is that I have been poorly paraphrased in the past by some journalists (not you), and in this case, I believe that Sierra’s former employees and even the city have gone through too much trauma to risk any accidental misquoting of anything I said, or even poor word selection on my part. I care deeply for these people, who worked their butts off for me – and I don’t want to be part of anything is counter-productive.
Thanks! – Ken Williams