Presented here, in its entirety, a letter from “A Group of Dedicated WHYY Employees” to their uber-paid CEO and President William J. Marrazzo. Seems things still aren’t all that happy over on Sesame Street (and special thanks to new CP Intern Eileen Talone for transcribing all five typed pages. Atta gal):
September 1, 2007
An open letter to William J. Marrazzo, CEO and President, WHYY
Dear Mr. Marrazzo,
We are a group of WHYY employees with an accumulation of 109 years of service. Many of us have worked for a number of CEOs over the years, but never has someone with your title and responsibilities impacted the company in such an adverse way. You have displayed a serious lack of understanding when it comes to creating an environment that is conducive to a healthy work place.
This letter is to inform you of the growing negative climate created during your ten years as CEO. Your lack of leadership has contributed to an atmosphere of low morale, virtually no teamwork or cooperation between departments, and an overwhelming feeing of distrust between senior management and the rest of the company.
Under your direction, the ability to get things done in a speedy and timely fashion has slowed to a snail’s pace. You and Bruce Flamm, CFO/COO have created a workplace filled with anxiety, trepidation, and despair when it comes to getting any funding or budgets approved. This attitude has negatively affected our company in a variety of ways. You and Mr. Flamm have instilled a culture that never existed prior to your arrival. During your tenure, there has been a common saying among our staff—“That’s just the way it is around here.”
Whether it’s old, outdated equipment, under-funded budgets, or well below average staff wages, one often hears these same defeated remarks. Mr. Mazzarro, if you understood how good companies operate and treat their employees, you would know your actions only create an unhappy workforce. Good leaders respect their employees and challenge them to be leaders themselves. As employees, we should be encourages to bring new ideas to the table, so as to create an inclusive atmosphere. Your approach to running our company is exactly what respected business management books teach readers not to do. It’s no coincidence that most of our staff never has a nice word to say about you, professionally or personally.
While we would prefer to disclose our names, we know that would lead to our dismissal. This has been proven over the years when an employee has challenged you or your policies, so we reluctantly have to remain anonymous.
So you understand the serious nature of our concerns, the following is a list of reasons we feel this letter is necessary.
1) Your annual compensation package is excessive and inappropriate for a CEO of an NPR and PBS member station. This has been written about in the media many times, and it has affected our ability to raise the funds necessary to operate as the 4th largest market station should. Someone with your business background and educational degrees is certainly entitled to a generous salary; however, earning over $500,000.00 per year is highly disproportionate to that of all other member stations. Many of us have been told by family, friends, and people we’ve met on the street, that they stopped giving to WHYY once they learned of your compensation.
Additionally, your salary has substantially drained our operating budget, and grossly affected our ability to serve the public. If it was more in line with similar member station CEOs’, it’s estimated there would be an extra $300,000.00 annually, which could be better appropriated to serve our cause. As recently as a few weeks ago, a column in The Philadelphia Inquirer brought your salary to the public’s attention once again. The day the column appeared in the newspaper, our station received a number of calls from members protesting, and some regretfully choosing to cancel their membership.
For years, our staff was proud to say we were contributing members. But now it’s just the reverse; we choose not to be members, because it helps to fund your excessive salary. Mr. Marrazzo, we all could have chosen to work in the commercial side of broadcasting earning higher salaries. However, we’ve willingly decided to work for less, knowing we are contributing to a god cause, a cause we strongly believe in. As our leader, you should also be willing to make the same sacrifices. It is clear that you do not understand a fundamental idea many of us learned long ago: do the right thing.
Last year, Charity Navigator rated you as the Highest Paid CEO at a Low-Rated Charity in the country. Further, WHYY rated only two stars, which designated us as: “underperforms most charities in its cause.” It’s no coincidence that our ability to reach our fundraising goals has decreased in the last three or four fund drives. The majority of our fundraising comes from our audience and in the last few years they are increasingly choosing not to give. This is negatively affecting our operations as well as our credibility. Further, when we don’t reach our goals, the pledge drives are extended and our radio and TV airwaves are saturated with more pleas to give. However, most members tell us they find this practice to be excessive and annoying, and feel less compelled to donate their money. This only harms the trust and special bond we have always maintained with many households in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey.
At the very least, you and the Board of Directors have been unethical in creating such a high salary structure for your position. WHYY is required by our FCC license and the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 to serve our local region with educational, creative, and diverse radio and TV programming. However, our ability to adhere to these requirements has been weakened, due to a shortage of funds in programming and production budgets, unwarranted business decisions and mismanagement of our day-to-day operations.
2) We are still in need of a replacement for our Station Manager/ Vice President vacancy. The position was also downgraded to a new title of Chief Content Officer, limiting us from hiring the most qualified candidate. It’s now four months later, yet we are still without anyone to lead us in the core function of our company—radio and TV production and programming. Additionally, when the vacancy was announced, we never received any communication from you assuring the staff of your intentions to search for another similarly qualified individual. We’ve been wondering since then how you would guide us in seeking another person with the experience, professionalism and creativity that the previous officer retained.
For many years we produced a wealth of local radio and TV programs, but under your direction the amount has diminished considerably. This would not be hard to reverse, since we see many other NPR/PBS member stations around the country turning out a wide variety of locally produced programs. All it would take is a willingness and commitment to stick to our underlying mission. This further demonstrates your lack of leadership in steering WHYY in the right direction, as well as your indifference to producing wide-ranging local radio and TV shows.
3) The special parking spaces created in the rear of our building for only yourself and your executive staff is just plain wrong. This only helps to build another dividing issue between senior management and the rest of us. A true leader would understand this is not the way to establish trust and garner respect from your employees.
Further, you do not allow any visitors, clients, and most importantly our faithful volunteers to park in this rear parking lot. Why should our volunteers have to pay to park, when we have more than enough space available? Why make a group of elderly women volunteers walk a block and a half at 11:00pm, when they could easily exit through our back door and get in to their vehicles quickly and safely? Why make any of our volunteers pay to park when many of them give up to eight hours of their time helping us raise the money needed to operate? They show commitment to WHYY and we should make things as easy as possible for them to assist us in our mission. Surely the Board does not know about this ridiculous policy.
4) During your tenure, the quality of our Human Resources department has become an embarrassment. You have relegated its director to becoming a highly paid security guard, checking the rear parking lot throughout the day to make sure that only the privileged few park in these spaces. Nothing of any substance comes from the leadership of this department other than basic information regarding our limited and expensive benefits, and a monthly wellness letter.
Additionally, this director has no understanding of the importance of keeping employee personnel files secure. Last year the staff learned that an unpaid intern was given the job of reviewing confidential employee records (including social security numbers, addresses and birthdates) so they were up to date. The identities of our staff were put at unnecessary risk in this day of increasing identity theft.
5) Much of our broadcasting equipment (studio cameras, control room, etc.) is old, outdated, and inferior. Valuable time and money are continually wasted repairing one item after another. Additionally, when money has been spent, it was used to purchase an automated system that cost well over $1,000,000.00, only to have it never work the way you promised. Even after one year in operation, this system still is far from producing its intended results. Instead, it has eliminated the necessary technical jobs that keep us on the air without interruption. All too often we hear from members voicing frustration due to their programs being disrupted. Unfortunately, this equipment had no proven track record and it has lowered the quality of engineering that our members have been accustomed to for many years.
Also, under your stewardship many staff computers failed to be updated with newer technology. Some are still using software and processors that are ten years old, resulting in our productivity being limited and constrained.
6) A couple of years ago each employee completed a detailed questionnaire regarding a variety of issues. We were asked for feedback to improve how the company operated, as well as our overall impressions on how to make WHYY a more enjoyable place to work. After the data was compiled, you then held focus groups to talk about the results. While all of this was a good idea, that’s where it ended. Very little was done to address our concerns, and during those meetings it was made clear that anyone who had a legitimate criticism was wise not to air it.
7) Lastly, your Chief Marketing Officer is strictly committed to your style of instilling resentment with employees and has alienated many in our company. Through her subtle, yet understood bullying of staff members, a demanding style, and setting unreasonable timelines to complete a task or assignment, this officer has fallen right in line with your damaging way of running this company. Since our Public Information Director left the station, this marketing officer has taken on those responsibilities as well, only to extend her detrimental managerial style further through the company.
Mr. Marrazzo, there are many more examples of your failures as a CEO. However, to keep this letter from being any lengthier, we feel what has been stated is a good representation of some of the big picture issues.
With all this in mind, we feel that the only proper way to have these issues addressed is for you and Bruce Flamm to tender your resignation to the Board of Directors. It’s been clearly demonstrated that neither of you retain the important skills or desire to operate this company in a sensible and constructive manner. Yes, you have taken measures to raise sizable amounts of money from wealthy individuals and corporations, but that is not what will help our company survive in the long term. The Board should be challenging you and asking important questions regarding the issues outlined in this letter, as well as having an awareness of the discontent throughout our staff.
Further, the Board has showed little oversight concerning how to maintain the integrity of the bond with our audience. The core of our fundraising comes from our listeners and viewers, and they are making it clear that they don’t want to give like they have in the past. We as employees of one of the finest public broadcasting stations in the country feel WHYY is long overdue for a change in leadership. Mr. Marrazzo, we ask that you and Mr. Flamm do the right thing and end your association with WHYY.
To the Board of Directors and our new incoming Chairman, Gerard Sweeney, we ask that on the 50th Anniversary of our organization, you act promptly to facilitate the necessary changes needed to rebuild the relationship WHYY once had with its audience and employees. You are the ultimate decision makers as to who leads this company’s day-to-day operations. During this process, we know you will consider someone who has the business acumen to run our company, but we ask that you also select someone who values and respects their employees, and understands how to motivate a workforce with an encouraging and inspirational style.
Additionally, we request that you reevaluate the makeup of the Board of Directors. This is a good opportunity to possibly redefine WHYY’s board so that it can be more inclusive and diverse within our entire community. Please also consider designating two members of our staff to attend board meetings and serve as liaisons to our workforce as a whole. This will help rebuild trust and create more transparency.
If you doubt our statements outlines in this letter, we suggest you confidentially poll each member of our staff. You’ll assuredly discover a significant percentage of employees agree with the statements in this letter. We encourage you to end this chapter of our history so we can once again be a great place to work, and garner the respect of our members and audience at large. This way we will be better prepared to serve the Delaware Valley region with vigor and integrity for the next fifty years.
A group of dedicated WHYY employees
Cc: Gerard Sweeney, Vice Chairman of the Board & Chairman-designate, WHYY, Inc.
Editorial Board, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Editorial Board, The Philadelphia Daily News
Editorial Board, the News Journal