If you’re a regular Question One quiz-goer, a performer ("QuizMaster"), or a Question One venue you have probably noticed that since the end of lockdown your local quiz is not the same.
The materials are different, the website is different, and the event feels different.
If it feels like the company was taken over by an investment banker and the questions are now being selected by a central committee of lawyers by the Entertainment company formerly-known-as-Question-One, you would not be mistaken.
What is different is that all the amazing people behind Question One: the quiz editors, administrators, and event coordinators have disappeared. With the exception of some of the talented performers & hosts, all the people who made Question One the great company it was are gone.
During the pandemic, dramatic changes were made, and Question One is not the better for it.
Question One is now the hollowed-out shell of the amazing company that it once was.
Let me tell you a story.
What happened to the staff of Question One?
At the start of the pandemic, in March of 2020, Question One was part of a hostile takeover orchestrated by a former Merrill Lynch VP and led by one of the largest shareholders of Question One, a micro-celebrity, who achieved 5-minutes of fame on Neighbours and as the middle son of a celebrity radio personality.
At an unofficial meeting and without all members present or having been notified, they unilaterally created a plan to “pause” Question One and to completely take over the company.
Question One was part of a hostile takeover orchestrated by a former Merrill Lynch Vice President.
What pausing meant was that both of the Directors previously responsible for managing the company were terminated without warning. From one day to the next, the staff of Question One were receiving and marching to orders from persons they had never heard of before. Over the following few months, it meant the firing or forced resignation of every former member of the Question One team.
The beginning of the end starts with lawyers
They started by hiring a lawyer to derail the employee benefits plan (ESOP) that was rolling out to enable Question One employees who had been at the company for many years to own a small part of the company they had helped build. A lawyer found a way out of the contract and it was immediately scrapped.
Next, they hired several more lawyers and a consultant whose job was to call and ask every member what it was, in their own words, that they did for Question One.
First, the lawyers came for the employee benefits plan
This came as a shock to many of the staff, some of whom had worked for the company for 5-years or longer and were being casually asked by persons unknown to them to justify their jobs and themselves to those who had no experience or interest in running an international events company. They were only interested in who could be let go and in which order.
A fired manager returns
The new board reinstated the brother of the primary shareholder, who had been forced to resign nearly 2-years before under extraordinary circumstances. He was perhaps the only other person they could find who had previous experience and knowledge of the business. Albeit, over those 2-years of his absence nearly everything had changed and Question One was scarcely the organization he had left. The business had nearly doubled, likely because of his absence, and it had many new faces, new products, and a large spacious new office.
The other problem with their plan was that while he had initially resigned due to "personal issues" (he wrote a resignation email, hopped a plane, and disappeared), he was later prevented from returning after it was discovered that he had bullied several staff members including sending nude photos of himself. He was now reinstated and put back in charge of the same staff and supervising the same members, who had previously reported on his activities.
Resignations rapidly accelerated during his very brief tenure. He had been waiting for this occasion and he arose to it when it arrived. It was likely their intention as his brother was well aware of the allegations and had previously helped prevent him from returning. Now his alleged indiscretions would help with a different kind of problem: it would expedite the pausing of Question One.
He was forced to resign after it was discovered that he had bullied multiple staff members including sending nude photos of himself.
While the firings and forced resignations were ongoing, the new manager went on a personal shopping spree. The few remaining staff reported that each day he would arrive at the nearly empty offices wearing new watches, shoes, an entirely new wardrobe, and an expensive electric scooter. It was shop therapy done while cynically discussing forced redundancies and pushing staff into part-time roles in the name of “saving the company.”
While the firings and forced resignations were ongoing... he would arrive at the nearly empty offices wearing new watches, shoes, outfits, and an expensive electric scooter.
Despite the firings and forced redundancies, Question One hired yet another lawyer to personally oversee the new manager and his day-to-day proceedings in the office. This lawyer sat in during nearly all meetings, virtual or otherwise, and was likely there as a chaperone to ensure past indiscretions did not continue while there was important work to be done. While staff members were being actively fired, Question One hired no less than 6 different lawyers to oversee its proceedings to ensure everything it did was perfectly legal.
"Virtual Events will never work"
Attempts to expand Question One into virtual events during the pandemic were met with resistance and hostility. The former investment banker who had taken control of the company as sole Director during the pandemic openly mocked virtual events. Attempts to find and create new products, and new sources of revenue as Question One's closest competitors were doing were derided as futile.
What the staff couldn't know was that the company was rapidly winding down and their best efforts were in direct opposition to this end. Their fate was a foregone conclusion. It had also already begun a process of asset striping and selling off large company assets including the office which had been put on the market while the few employees left were still sitting in it.
According to the new Director, whose entire career was in finance and who had no experience, capacity, or interest in running an entertainment company; pausing it was the only possible outcome for Question One. Any attempts to do otherwise were antithetical to that end.
Retired investment bankers know best, especially when led by the all-powerful force of nepotism and a retinue of lawyers.
Legal threats & withheld salaries
The expanding legal team began threatening staff members and withholding salaries from anyone who didn’t immediately heed their demands. This included both former Directors who were threatened with “criminal acts” when they attempted to ensure all former staff members would be paid in full and have their healthcare benefits extended after their employment had been terminated.
Question One’s lawyers found ways to circumvent these attempts and slashed benefits with immediate effect despite generous COVID-19 legislation which afforded great leniency and allowed these to be extended at little to no cost to employers. Nearly a dozen performers had their salaries temporarily withheld by the new Director.
Eventually, some former staff members took Question One to small claims court in order to receive their final salaries after months of legal proceedings. Despite the size of its growing legal team, Question One was eventually forced to pay nearly all of its staff.
The expanding legal team began threatening staff members and withholding salaries from anyone who didn’t immediately heed their demands.
Question One withheld salaries from its employees, it breached contracts, including its tenant agreement, contracts with its largest suppliers, and a loan from one of Question One's shareholders.
Over two years, Question One lost or settled nearly half-a-dozen lawsuits with its former staff, suppliers, and former Directors. After it lost one court battle, one of Question One's lawyers reported the opposing counsel to the local bar association, the case was dropped as frivolous but it made one thing clear: Question One had gone to war with itself.
A paid vacation during a worldwide pandemic
Meanwhile, the stakeholder who instigated the hostile takeover decided it was now a prudent time to relocate himself to the safety of his home country of Australia for his own comfort during the pandemic. During this time, he used company money to relocate, despite having no formal position, and almost certainly continued to draw a full salary while cynically and callously destroying the livelihoods of others in the name of necessity. But not before sending out a company-wide missive in which he signed off unsympathetically to the few remaining staff by stating "Question One will survive!"
What the email neglected to say is that while Question One might survive financially, it would be without any of them. While Question One's future might have been reasonably uncertain, their future was not.
"Question One will survive!" but what the email neglected to say is that it would be without any of them.
A few short weeks before this email he had been imploring the company's other shareholders that despite the ongoing pandemic and the ongoing company pause, Question One should continue paying quarterly dividends.
The decision to pause the entire company had already been made and the process was well underway. The decision to pause the business and for all of the staff of Question One to lose their jobs was taken from the beginning; documents later discovered show that it had long since been decided. The self-appointed board had the legal entity that employed nearly all of Question One's full-time staff almost immediately put on the legal path of suspension. It had also decided to sell off large company assets such as the company's offices while employees were still using it and had discussed off-shoring to another country altogether.
The rehabilitated manager was undoubtedly hostile to the staff who had helped oust him (or rather prevent his return). He casually discussed outsourcing opportunities in Ukraine enthusiastically saying he would "rebuild!"
The new manager casually discussed outsourcing opportunities in Ukraine.
The company-wide email further neglected to mention that despite the pandemic, the previous year had been the highest performing and most profitable in Question One's decade-long history and despite the pandemic, the company was in a comfortable financial position; arguably the best financial position Question One had ever been in (during a time when the investment banker, usurping shareholder and his brother had no substantial involvement).
With leadership, solidarity, and imagination, the crisis could have been navigated and led to new opportunities, opportunities which were instead seized upon and executed by Question One’s competitors. While Question One was busy hiring lawyers and winding itself down, mocking attempts from its staff "to go virtual," Question One's nearest competitors were finding it was, in fact, possible.
The long-term impact of COVID-19 came from the poverty of imagination, leadership, and cynicism of a narrow-minded shareholder, his brother, and the investment banker he appointed as Director of Question One in their inability and outright unwillingness to adapt to the crisis.
Never let a crisis go to waste
Together with the former investment banker, they managed to preserve Question One in name only and at the expense of every staff member while managing to enrich themselves as the company paused for 2-years. Despite no longer having an official position or any role at Question One, as he had previously resigned for legal reasons, he flew away likely in business class on an international flight. He flew away at company expense while holding no formal position in the company, while Question One's few remaining staff toiled and suffered below at a safe distance.
They preserved Question One at the expense of every staff member while managing to enrich themselves as the company paused for 2-years.
He took a paid vacation for 2-years during the pandemic with scarcely anyone or anything to manage while personally benefiting throughout the entire crisis.
After a few short months of shopping and forced redundancies with a lawyer by his side, the last brother likewise fled to Australia. He likely also took a company-paid business-class flight where they were reunited to share their paid vacations and comfortably wait out the rest of the pandemic.
The new Director resigned in September of 2020, less than 6-months after having taken over Question One, but not before having drained most of its bank accounts and striping most of the companies assets with the significant help of two brothers and a rotating carousel of highly paid consultants and lawyers.
In less than 6-months, Question One's new board had completed its objectives. It removed the previous Directors and it had disenfranchised its managers and all of its staff.
In the process, it had also callously rid itself of its most valuable asset: its talented staff.
While Question One was busily pausing itself, burning money on a comprehensive legal team, and hiring consultants to work out all of the legal justifications to wind down a business then spanning 3 continents, this now jobless and wayward former staff had another idea. And they were not going to waste any more time.