As Fujioka had done at his prior companies, at Fuhu he hired childhood pals to populate many of the company’s senior positions. He also cherry-picked a group called the Partnership, some 30 employees who committed themselves to the collective good of the company. With that honor came the promise of equity, special access to Fujioka himself, and a walkie-talkie–which Fujioka’s assistant could use to send for his staff. “It was another form of knowing he could get anybody to drop everything at a moment’s notice,” says one former senior executive.
The Partnership provided a powerful incentive for employee motivation, but it also created an organizational caste system. “Just imagine you’re in a high school, and all the cool kids get to sit at this cool table,” says one former nonpartner employee. “If you’re not part of that circle, you don’t get looked at and you don’t get talked to.” In this atmosphere, rumors flew of special perks for Partnership members. Fujioka denies there was anything improper about any of the favors he doled out. “We negotiated [auto] leases, and I’m pretty sure there were times when we helped people with their payments,” says Fujioka, noting that he gave one pregnant partner three bonus months of paid maternity leave. Jealousy and gossip from nonpartners, he says, were disheartening. “Maybe what they don’t understand is that the person [who received extra maternity leave] had two miscarriages, and it’s probably because she was working 13 hours a day. Those kinds of things,” he says. “And did it ever come out of pocket? A lot. That’s why I hesitate–was that Fuhu or was that me? Because I think 80 percent of it was me.”“Maybe there’s such thing as $20 million or $30 million between friends. But $100 million? I don’t think they’re friends any longer.”
Meanwhile, loyalty was best proved to Fujioka by self-sacrifice. He expected employees to work as doggedly for him as he had for the Huis, who, he says, once made him pull several consecutive all-nighters to write a business plan. John Hui’s exercises “were very painful,” says Fujioka. “It was really about obligation, responsibility, and servitude.” Signs of disloyalty, real or perceived, could flare Fujioka’s temper. In one instance, after a junior staffer privately asked the head of HR when he could collect overtime and take vacation, he was dragged before Fujioka and a roomful of partners for a vote on whether he should be fired. The meeting, the staffer later alleged in a wrongful-termination suit that was settled, “was done with oppression and malice” and resulted in “depression, anxiety, humiliation, and emotional distress.” Employees say they eventually learned not to challenge the views of their micromanager boss. “He wasn’t listening to the smart, talented people that he had hired,” says one former staffer. “Instead, he’d listen to the group that really consisted only of yes-men.”
Sadly, several of my projects in the last 10 years have involved things like this.
I wouldn’t play ball with crap like this, so I paid the price.
Would I do it again?
I just did about 2 months ago.