I never had anything to do with Tom Petters.  I’ve certainly never met the guy.  But I don’t think I’d have liked him much.

When you meet a person in a bar, or on a date, or wherever, you can usually get a pretty fair sense of what that person’s about via all sorts of little cues; their body language, the way they pick their words, the way they spell things, the way the respond (or not) to questions, the tone and manner in which they speak, their eye contact, and a million other little telltale signs most of us have internalized after a lifetime of dealing with people.

Companies are the same.  In my years of working – especially in my years as a contractor, where I’d sometimes be with three or four different companies in a year, with months of interviewing, and researching companies, and interviewing some more – I like to think I’ve developed a pretty keen sense of how a company is when I get a first impression.  Of course, at various times in my life, I’ve had to just get a damn job, now, and so I’ve taken jobs where that little sense in the back of my head told me that there was something about the people I’d interviewed that wasn’t quite right.  That little sense was always right.

And of course, I’ve walked away from job opportunities when that little sense was insistent enough (and other opportunities were available, naturally). 

Over the years, I’ve interviewed with two Petters group subsidiaries – I’m not going to name names.  And both times, that little voice in the back of my head said “RUN AWAY“.  The gist I got both times was the same feeling you get when a salesman is pitching you on a very dubious proposition; he’s pouring his heart into it, but it just doesn’t add up.  In both cases, there was a sense of – to coin a phrase – frantic sleaziness about the operation that set my internal “warning meter” to jackhammer.  I left both interviews with no intention of coming back for a second.  If presenting a frantically-sleazy veneer to interviewees was a tactic to weed out less-than-enthusiastic possible recruits – well, it worked.  Twice. 

And judging by this kind of story, I’m glad:

I’m trying to get official confirmation, but two previously credible sources tell me that GreatWater Media, part of Tom Petters’ empire, was shuttered today. All employees — I think we’re talking about three dozen folks — were terminated…When the acquisition was announced July 17, Petters officials told MMG employees they would not be paid for the previous three weeks. After stories appeared in MinnPost and the Star Tribune, Petters relented — offering 38 rehired workers “retention bonuses” equal to three weeks pay…according to one laid-off worker’s spouse, it was never paid and now won’t be.

Even worse, the spouse says workers won’t be paid for the past three weeks at GreatWater Media — meaning they’ve lost six weeks worth of pay overall.


In the interest of fairness, I’ll add that I do have friends who have worked in various corners of Petters’ former empire, and had good experiences.  I’ve also worked with “alumni” of Petters’ empire who carried the frantic sleaziness with them to their next jobs.

Conclusion?  There is none – except that that little voice in the back of your head can be a very useful thing. 

2 thoughts on “Fingerhutted

  1. I didn’t know who Tom Petters was until once when I was flying Sun Country, I took to reading the airline magazine. It was the first time in flying many different airlines that the airline magazine had a social page somewhat like C.J.’s column in the Strib. It featured various events and one person kept showing up in the pictures and stories, Tom Petters. I looked up who he was later and found out he was the owner of the airline. I thought that the airline must be some testimony to the mans ego. Later in the magazine, there was an ad page asking “Look who’s flying Sun Country now” and all the beautiful people profiled were some of the same that showed up on the social page earlier in the book.
    There have been similar stories like those alleged in the Petters’ case (although not quite as large a fraud) in the past. My wife worked for a financial planning and investment company that went out of business when it was dicovered that the founder and CEO was dipping into client money to build a vacation home in FLA and new mansion to replace his current one. He was a great guy (threw a great Christmas Party, anyway) and yet becuase he had gotten away with it in the past, he thought he could continue to do so.
    As to your larger point about picking up strange vibes from different companies, I call on lots of different types of companies, and I’ve found two things consistently: Companies that wear their religion on their sleeve (We’ve been blessed with a great year, praise Jesus) generally are the worst to get invloved in a billing dispute with (a friend calls it spouting Jesus from the corner office and hiding behind the cross at collection time); and companies where the spoiled, playboy kid gets groomed to take over the company Dad founded, will be sold out within 5 years.

  2. companies where the spoiled, playboy kid gets groomed to take over the company Dad founded, will be sold out within 5 years.

    With the exception that it was Grandpa, and not Dad, Carlson is holding it’s own under the “guidance” of Curtis Nelson.

    Altho his Mom, Curt’s daughter Marilyn, is the chairman and CEO, while Curtis is only the president.

    (disclaimer: I went to jr/sr high school with one, 1 year behind one, and a couple years ahead of another, of the Curt Carlson grandbabies…but I wasn’t really friends with any of them. Curtis was 5 years ahead of me so I never met or knew about him)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.