EMC China chief 'to quit' in email fiasco
Heads roll*after*boss is compared to Genghis Khan
Simon Burns in Taipei, vnunet.com 08 May 2006
A minor dispute over a misplaced key which blew up into a public relations fiasco has reportedly ended with the resignation of the president of $10bn-a-year multinational tech company EMC's Chinese division.
The incident has underlined the dangers of private emails becoming public, and drawn attention to the cultural disconnect between foreign managers and local staff in China.
EMC declined to confirm or deny details of the case when contacted by vnunet.com.
According to Chinese media reports, the incident started when Loke Soon Choo, president of EMC China, returned to his office late one Friday evening in April to find himself locked out.
The Singaporean executive fired off a curt email to his secretary, who had already left the office.
"You locked me out of my office this evening because you assume I have my office key on my person. With immediate effect, you do not leave the office until you have checked with all the managers you support," Loke wrote, according to copies of the emails seen by vnunet.com.
The secretary, Rebecca Hu, emailed a blistering reply. "I locked the door because the office has been burgled in the past. Even though I'm your subordinate, please pay attention to politeness when you speak. This is the most basic human courtesy. You have your own keys. You forgot to bring them, but you still want to say it's someone else's fault," she wrote.
Hu copied her reply, along with Loke's original email, to all of EMC's staff in China. Someone copied the email to a friend outside the company, and during the next couple of weeks the email exchange was forwarded around other companies in China, apparently reaching thousands of people, some of whom posted it on online forums.
It became a cause*of heated online debate, with some supporting Hu, but others accusing the secretary of being stubborn, irresponsible and unprofessional. Some of the attacks on EMC have nationalist overtones, as the firm, and Loke, are foreigners.
"Foreigners come to China to lord it over others, not to help China's economic development," said one forum participant. "They want to keep down our wages and give the profits to foreign executives and their headquarters."
Another pointed out that the boss had made the error of cc-ing several other staff on his original email to the secretary, thus turning a private reprimand into a public humiliation.
Others online blamed the outburst on the pressure put on employees by the difference in pace between competitive foreign enterprises and the more slow-moving traditional Chinese companies to which they are accustomed.
"I think her reply expressed my own feelings," wrote 'Vanny', who works for a foreign firm and forwarded the email on as soon as she received it.
"I know forwarding it isn't good for the people involved: the more attention this receives, the worse it gets.
"But the pressure inside foreign companies is huge. We all feel a lot of tension when we're working. Even after work, we can't stop thinking about the office. My colleagues always look really stressed out.
"This stubborn secretary's email is like a shot in the arm. It's exciting. Seeing how she told off her boss, we can imagine doing the same. That feels wonderful!"
By the end of April, Hu had left EMC in what the company said was a " personal decision".
Chinese newspapers and TV began to pay attention to the debate. The Beijing Youth Daily tracked down Hu and interviewed her. She complained that all the publicity was making it difficult for her to find a new job.
By early May, the story had been repeated in hundreds of newspapers, news websites, blogs and discussion forums in China.
In addition to the PR fallout, some Chinese bloggers*have suggested that*a member of EMC's sales staff was fired because he had first forwarded the email outside the company, with a comment which appears to compare*Loke to 13th century foreign invader Genghis Khan.
EMC declined to comment to vnunet.com on the details of the case. "This is an internal EMC matter. It is important to understand that EMC is a global company that stands for integrity and respect everywhere we conduct business," Stevy Ng, marketing communications manager*at EMC Greater China, told vnunet.com.
Today, several Chinese publications reported that Loke would resign this week, citing unamed sources.
EMC, which makes storage systems, generated revenues of $9.66bn last year. The company, which prides itself on its good relations with its employees, has approximately 26,500 staff worldwide, according to its last annual report.
... "If I'm not here .. Where else would i be" ...