»CEOs have their employees suffer for them. But yet, the CEO’s pay goes up and up and up… and so many people are left behind. I’m here to tell you: No more! It’s not right! It’s never been right!«
– Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani
I’ve posted Hamdi Ulukaya’s TED Talk from which I took above quote on the “Anti-CEO Playbook“, which is worth watching for anyone who is tired of today’s profit-over-people driven global business ventures. It CAN and MUST be done differently! I’ve also written many posts on Clive Schlee’s “leadership” in Pret A Manger, like for example the Timing of the £1000 Announcement to all staff on Twitter on 29. May 2018, which came after he and Pret became aware of my blog in the night from 28th to 29th May 2018. But I want to pull some things together into one post again as I feel people still don’t get it!
I used to be your typical good citizen (and I still am!), working hard, keeping my head down, loyal come rain come shine, doing things by the book with all my shortcomings and down falls as well. I was your average employee. No, I was more. I always gave 150%. But I equally was lulled in and brainwashed by this Pret PR machine and a smiley, approachable CEO. Until they crossed so many lines that I, in an utter traumatized state endured and survived. It took me distance to understand what happened to me. For any new reader, my full story is in the audio player interview at the bottom of this page.
Apart from what I have survived in Pret and collected in other staff reviews, it is beyond me how easily society today remains lulled in, blinded in the acceptance of how business is done today. People are comfortable with a business EVEN after 2 customers died from their products, and a third nearly fatal reaction.
I should be stopping right here in this post, as the ultimate terrible thing that can happen to any business is customers dying from that business’ product or service! And in Pret TWO customers died. Yet, after the initial outrage, everyone goes back to business, and the chaos behind the scenes continues without any consequences for that company!
While I worked at Pret, and even before my brother died when all the nightmare began, I always wondered why in shop after shop the management is so poor with just very few exceptions. There is a bullying environment I looked over as everyone was treated bad, except those who kissed up to leadership for quick promotion. But I tried to ignore the environment and kept going. Yet, I always knew in my heart that the “fish stinks from its head” and if a company has poor management skills across the board, it comes from the top down.
Clive Schlee’s management style is very simple: It’s a “good cop, bad cop” approach. He’s the good cop who pretends to not realize what’s going on when staff complain about the bad cop managers in their shops. But all cops have one thing in mind: profit, profit, profit and squeeze the maximum “productivity” out of employees until there’s nothing left to squeeze. And when they’re dried up and burnt out, they are discarded like broken machines! Clive Schlee is one of those leaders who doesn’t like to hire and fire, he leaves that to the firing squat called the HR department, who in turn let the Operations Team do the firing.
Responsibility is handed down through the ranks to the bottom. A typical cowardliness leadership style. It’s like the captain of a ship that jumps ship first when it sinks, instead of doing the courageous and principled thing that a true Captain is supposed to do. I distinguish these two “captains” by a capital letter. A true Captain gets passengers and crew off the ship first, starting with the most vulnerable, and then as the Captain, he leaves the ship at the very end when EVERYONE is off the boat!
But in Pret A Manger the typical “leadership” style is, that the captain, the top leadership saves their skin first and blames downward, or in the words of Hamdi Ulukaya again:
»CEOs have their employees suffer for them … and so many people are left behind.«
The most recent example of this is Pano Christou. With all the press regarding the allergen deaths and my blog being a sore in Clive Schlee’s sight, the announcement of his “retirement” (he’s 60!) was made AFTER I tweeted to the press on 01. July (I explain in detail here) and the press then contacting HQ for confirmation. Pano Christou becomes the new CEO in September. But since Clive Schlee leaves a legacy of poor staff reviews on Glassdoor & Co. what does he do? He does what he does best: he passes the buck downward and let’s Pano Christou already appear in mid July on Glassdoor.
A customer pointed out the poor Glassdoor scoring on 01. July 2019 when the retirement announcement was tweeted. So, Schlee must have arranged for Christou to take over on Glassdoor before the official September handover:
Link to Tweet
Both percentages of Schlee and now Christou are from the mid July 2019 handover on Glassdoor. The £1000 “bribe” and marketing didn’t help cover over the reality of work in Pret. And Schlee received £30 Million BONUS with the JAB take over, plus partly owning itsu… At least he’s sorted on the money end.
Again, instead of owning up he quickly passes the buck to the next in line. Pano Christou having come from McDonald’s management (one of the biggest exploitative companies) and started in Pret in management, he learned under Schlee.
And this is clever as well because Christou starting from zero, once he gets let’s say the first 10 votes and 7 out of the 10 are positive, he will be at 70% approval rate in no time, making it look like he’s the great CEO. New viewers, especially those from other countries who are completely new to Pret assume Pret has great senior management in place. But he will continue under the “CEO Playbook” that Hamdi Ulukaya adequately criticizes and works on to reform, having a McDonald’s background and having been longer in Pret than Clive Schlee. He will make no difference, but will continue under the same facade. And this is very typical Pret, tweaking, tricking, covering up instead of really caring. It’s just regular millionaires who only care to advance their wealth.
A quick reminder of what Pret staff experience and mainly voice in anonymity:
Assistant Manager NY 2017
+ More recent reviews:
Slideshow can be pause
The above slideshow is just a selection, the list goes on in → Pret Staff Complaints
A poignant truth someone wrote on a Twitter feed. Worth reading the whole feed:
»It’s amazing to me how many business leaders separate their employees from their customers/patrons. Your employees are your core target audience to put word-of-mouth out about your organization.«
Out of my own experience and my former colleagues’ complaints to me as their Team Leader, I was at least lucky enough to have been in a position to stand up for them as their Leader, but my and their experiences topped with the way Pret dealt with the customer deaths, shows so frighteningly how reckless and dangerous this kind of “leadership” style is.
Another common thing in Pret also is to name, shame and blame managers via mass emails to all shops, when a particular shop or shops had poor results in certain checks, like Health and Safety checks etc. It’s a typical sign of poor management when from the top blame is trickled down to “motivate” with fear management. Fear management and aggression is always telltale sign of incapable leadership, that cuts corners to get a quick profit. Is it any wonder that many managers, especially those who care, are always so nervous and stressed, putting the stress then on the teams?!
I always felt a mix of empathy for the managers, but also anger, because as a Team Leader I was then dumped all the work load of the problems they were blamed with. Managers who pass the blame on to the Team Leaders who then blame and burden the low-paid Teams! And the vicious circle continues! I often went against this current and tried to fight back and also protected my Teams. And it is high time that Clive Schlee got a good dose of his own medicine of the blaming game, while hiding behind the “good cop” innocent facade! Hide and seek is over!
“Leadership”, that I can only put in quotation marks, that refuses to take responsibility, blames downwards, passes the buck to the next in line, and then has the audacity to remain as a non-executive Director in the background! I can only boil it down to narcissistic arrogance which shows when Clive Schlee, only thinking about himself, ignores a serious customer complaint on behalf of staff on Twitter!
Customer complaint on 29. June 2019 about hellish work conditions in a shop, which is ALSO a VERY common problem in Pret where repairs of inadequate air conditioners are not attended to for MONTHS. I went through this twice:
First and Second Tweet to which Schlee responded on 01. July AFTER retirement news broke. (A long list of customer complaints regarding overheated shops with broken air conditioning and the hellish work conditions staff are left in).
On 30. June 2019, Schlee’s response to a farewell regarding his retirement, but no official retirement announcement until I tweeted to the press on 01. July (after I tweeted this to the press I got shadow banned and then the press started “breaking” the news on Twitter). Clive Schlee’s response to Neil here came AFTER the above customer, Kirk tweeted TWICE to Schlee about broken air conditioning:
Link Clive Schlee being all about himself again, while ignoring TWO Tweets a day before by a customer on excruciating work conditions! I’m sure he didn’t realize that he spilled the beans again unintentionally regarding his non-caring about the welfare of his hardworking employees!
In the U.S. it would hail a storm of lawsuits on Pret with one customer death being enough to sue the living daylights out of them! One customer already unsuccessfully sued Pret in New York in 2016 after having suffered an anaphylactic shock ALSO from an unlabelled Sesame product. He was devastated when he learned of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse’s anaphylactic shock, leading to her death from an unlabelled Sesame product ALSO in 2016! He fought in court, but lost.
This lawsuit wasn’t a hint enough for Pret to do the right thing labelling their products! And then even AFTER TWO customer deaths Pret STILL didn’t do the right thing UNTIL the deaths became public! Only THEN did SLOW change happen. I cover this and their inconsistency in “Pret’s Labelling Commitment?” with their appalling and infamous slogans.
“It’s what makes Pret, Pret”!!
HR department logo:
So, this is the UK, no lawsuits.
Complacent, inefficient, indifferent and arbitrarily dangerous for people’s health and lives.
And Pret is very quick to change the shop signage of their 350+ stores in the UK for Pride month, while not acting on allergen labelling on their products until customer deaths became public.
@celestine__ on Twitter
Customer deaths don’t make people wake up, certainly staff complaints, staff deaths and suicides don’t wake people up. No lawsuits. No investigations. A society full of indifferent people that only cares for a free cookie. We all know that the opposite of care and love is not hate, but indifference.
I despair at this.
And perhaps it mainly takes CEOs who are also the founders of their companies to care enough to make a difference. Most CEOs these days are just “managers” who were given the rod to the flock, and thus they don’t have concerns for what they were entrusted with. They then open the door to the wolves of private equity. And the suffering gets out of control with the “managers” sneaking out the back door, when the “slaughter” gets too bloody and the managers are in danger of getting cut.
But I want to end on a positive note, another hopeful, courageous and principled CEO, whose words are blunt but much needed, and like Hamdi Ulukaya, a Captain with a capital “C”:
»To sell my business, this thing that I created, that I poured my life, 30 years of work in; to sell it to one of those bastards (venture capitalists), it would feel like selling one of my children into prostitution. And I was never gonna do it.«
– Guy Singh-Watson
Founder and CEO of employee-owned Riverford
A list of blog entries I wrote regarding Clive Schlee: “Late Night Girl Articles”
Riverford and Chobani scores June/July 2019 on Glassdoor
I worked at Pret A Manger for almost 10 years and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the CEO Clive Schlee. I declined 4 settlement offers if I am silent about my ordeal. But I rather starve and speak out to help others. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
I also tell my story for the first time verbally in this >>> podcast interview based in California, and wrote an article in the Scottish Left Review.
Thank you for reading/listening.
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