Fitzroyalty

Hyperlocal news about Melbourne's first suburb: Fitzroy 3065

Abby Winters and other unethical employers

| 24 Comments

I have to interrupt my series of summer holiday reviews to discuss some breaking news. The Fitzroy based Abby Winters porn site is in trouble again. The bogan press journalist, who has been pursuing a vendetta against it since 2007, reported yesterday that G Media CEO Garion Hall has been charged with numerous offences including ‘making objectionable films for gain’. For the background to this story read my December 2007 and June 2009 posts.

The charges are the result of investigations following his June arrest. A number of people writing about this issue then analysed the law and came to the conclusion that while it may be legal for Abby Winters to publish its content on the internet (which is not examined by the Australian censors), the legality of creating the content in Australia was uncertain due to archaic, incomplete and contradictory state and federal laws. The links at the end of my June post provide more detail on this.

While the Herald Sun stories from 2007 and 2009 are full of irrational emotional nonsense and short on analytical argument, the charges are serious, particularly in relation to child pornography (one allegation made in June was that a model was only 17 when she modeled for photos that appeared on the site).

I have been writing this post for some time. Its original focus was about a pattern of unethical behaviour I have experienced from entrepreneurial employers. Since my June post, my opinion of Hall has changed dramatically. In August – September this year I interviewed for the position of Marketing Manager at Abby Winters, which is one of three employers whose behaviour I will discuss below.

Based on the information I had gathered from various acquaintances, I had a mostly positive view of Abby Winters (NSFW official and SFW wikipedia) prior to interviewing there. The June raid was concerning, but at the time it did not seem a fundamental problem as no charges had been laid.

The Marketing Manager role was advertised on Seek and called for someone with a combination of traditional and internet, especially social media, marketing experience. My previous (then current) employment with StreetAdvisor.com (now localvoices.realestate.com.au) was the perfect background for the role, which offered a wage of $95,000 pa plus 10% at risk performance bonus.

I submitted an application with my CV and covering letter as specified. I was shortlisted and then offered an interview, which I attended. It was with a temporarily contracted marketing manager and the permanent business manager. It lasted an hour, was entirely professional and I thought I did well in it.

I was quickly offered a second round interview, this time with CEO Garion Hall. I attended the interview, where I was kept waiting for nearly 20 minutes. Once in the interview, it was apparent that Hall was flaky and disorganised. He had not read my CV and wanted me to explain myself as he knew nothing about me. The interview became a rambling three and a half hour conversation about the internet, marketing, social media and online communities.

I left happy that I had seemingly built a rapport with Hall, that he appeared to like me, and that he was impressed by my ideas about how I could develop social media marketing strategies for his subscription based content business. While I was also frustrated with the unfocused nature of the interview, a lot of money was on offer.

Hall also gave me a book he liked to review. He wanted me to give him a free review or report on the validity of its predictions about the value of online communities. Hall wanted to merge the Abby Winters forums with the main site to expand on the online community developing around his product.

When I was asked to come in for a third meeting, I was expecting to be offered a contract. After another rambling 90 minutes later with Hall I left having made no progress. While stating that I would be entirely competent in the Marketing Manager role, Hall was now totally enthused by my social media marketing ideas and wanted to create a new position focusing on this. My suggestion that I start the role as advertised and transition into more social media over time was rejected.

Hall was also surprised by my negative review of the book Smart Start-Ups: How Entrepreneurs and Corporations Can Profit by Starting Online Communities, by David Silver. Written in 2007 by a middle aged suit with no knowledge or understanding of the internet, social media or online communities, the book is embarrassingly awful.

It’s full of basic errors of fact about the internet and absurd ideas that will never work, such as embedding iPod like internet enabled devices in car dashboards through which drivers will consume paid content while commuting to work. The fact that Hall thought this book had merit (he had about 10 copies of it on his bookcase) meant he also had no clue about these things.

I was never formally rejected for the Marketing Manager role. Instead, Hall strung me along for another two weeks while he wrote a position description for the new role. He emailed it to me and asked me to come in for a fourth time. The new position reported to the original position, and I replied by asking for the details of the unspecified salary. Hall replied that it was $60,000 base plus $50,000 at risk performance bonus.

I was indignant that I was considered worthy of a management role paying $95,000, yet was now being offered only a subordinate role with a guaranteed $60,000. I told Hall I was disgusted by his time wasting behaviour and insulting offer. I thought his failure to clearly reject me (the only candidate to get a third round interview) for the original role was unprofessional. I withdrew my application.

I had a similar experience in 2008, when I interviewed at the Melbourne offices of the developer of the virtual desktop software 360desktops for a social media / marketing role. The first interview went well, and I was invited to a second, which also seemingly went well. I was then invited to lunch at the local pub to meet the development team. I expected an offer to be forthcoming, but I did not hear from them. After a week I contacted them to reaffirm my interest in the role and to ask if they had made a decision. They replied that they had not, but that I would hear from them soon.

Two weeks went by with no news. I contacted them again, and the CEO complained that I had not been in touch, and said that if I was serious about the role I would have been chasing them for it. I reminded him of our previous conversation and made the pragmatic observation that, as the employer, he was in control of the situation and needed to take responsibility for it. I made my displeasure with his disorganised and unprofessional behaviour clear and withdrew my application.

The third employer was Dow Digital, an early example of a digital agency (website design and development company) that operated in Perth in the late 1990s. I worked there for three months in 1998, supposedly writing project and proposal documentation. I spent more time fixing their crappy old Macs and refusing to attend seminars at the Landmark forum, a personal development cult with which the business was infested.

They sacked me on the last day of my probation period with no explanation (apart from the obvious but unstated conclusion that I would not join their stupid cult). Dow Digital crashed and burned as a result of the dot com crash. I cheered when I read about its bankruptcy in the newspaper.

I’ve met many egotistical entrepreneurs, whose ambitions exceed their abilities, and I’ve learned to see through their spin to observe the flacid reality beneath. I was right to reject Abby Winters. If I turn on the television news one day to see Hall being sentenced to gaol time, it will be even more satisfying than Dow Digital’s bankruptcy. Bring it on.

24 comments

  1. Speechless. When I started at G Media I found Garion an energetic and inspiring boss. Things were less good by the time I left 4 years or so later, but overall I counted it a rewarding experience.

  2. I am disappointed that this is your only response to the situation. This is a pretty serious issue, both for Garion / AW and for everyone else in Victoria and in Australia at large who *is*making quality ethical erotica. The outcome of his case will set a precedent and make the grey areas in the laws you’ve mentioned a lot more black-and-white. The fact that you’ve had a bad personal experience with Garion really has no relevance to that topic and, from my perspective, does not make him an ‘unethical’ employer. I would have liked to have seen some discussion about the possible consequences of these charges, some comment on its presentation by the Herald-Sun, or maybe some consideration of what it means for the future of adult filmmaking in this state and country. There are some of us whose careers and goals will be deeply affected by the decisions made by the courts. The possibility of gaol time has dire consequences for him and for us, and for you to so loosely toss your desire to see him suffer because he has personally offended you is nothing short of disappointing. With your backgrond and your general penchant for critical analysis, I was expecting a lot more from this post.

    • Hi Bee Ess, I could write what you have outlined, but you’ve missed the point. As I explained, the post is about the unethical behaviour of entrepreneurial employers, specifically in the media / IT area. Garion Hall demonstrated to me that he was an incompetent manager and employer, which leads me to question his judgement and ability to make complex decisions. Failures in these areas may have contributed to his current circumstances.

      I’m not particularly interested in the mess of state and federal laws relating to the production of sexually explicit media. There are many areas of the law that are manifestly unadequate, dysfunctional or wrong in my opinion. Nothing further needs to be said about the Herald Sun. What’s the point? Their agenda is clear.

  3. The posts you’ve made on this topic before (linked to above) suggest that you have at least a casual interest in the subject matter, and you have done some investigative work and critique in the past. I don’t really think you can claim that you aren’t interested, because you’ve put a fair bit of energy into the subject in the past and of anyone else who has blogged on the topic, you’ve been the most respectable. Forgive me for feeling that you had set a standard for your discourse on the topic.

    Lots of large companies don’t have the most efficient recruitment processes. Lots of small businesses don’t, either. I don’t think you’ve done much revelation there, and the whole post comes across as you just spitting out your dummy. I think it is common consensus that the world is full of arrogant entrepreneurs. I feel that you’ve taken the occasion of Garion’s being charged to have a winge about something only remotely related to the topic, a topic that you’ve engaged with critically before. If anything you’ve steered people away from the major issues of this case. You said that you were going to ‘discuss some breaking news’. But you actually discussed a few years’ worth of your personal employment rejections.

    I get your ploint, I just think it’s moot and lacks the awareness and relevance I’ve come to expect from you.

    • Hi Bee, I’m not saying I’m not interested in social values about sex or about porn. I’m saying the legalities of making porn in Victoria and Australia are complex and as I don’t work in the industry I have only a general interest in discussing the law. I’m more interested in the social context – what sex means to people, how they express themselves and how they communicate via sex.

      Recruitment is a process that is easy to do well, and I have just got a new job where the recruitment process was efficient, transparent and professional. This has allowed me to reflect on my recent employment experiences, including interviewing for Abby Winters.

      I’m drawing a link between what I know of Garion Hall and what I read about him in the media. There’s little new information, so I’ve brought a new angle to the story based on my personal experience.

  4. What is it with entrepreneurs in this town? When I first moved here, I nailed an interview with an IT startup (now defunct), and so got a callback to come back in for another interview, where I was offered the chance to work for a few months WITHOUT PAY until they could get their funding sorted. I didn’t laugh in his face and walk out, but I should have. I wonder if they made the same sort of offer to the plumbers and electricians that were doing installations in their building.

  5. Leaving aside my own personal distaste for the way pornography entraps vulnerable people (viewers and participants), I can’t say I’m surprised at any of what you say.

    I’ve been the victim of a number of ‘speculative’ hires where I am offered the job via handshake never to hear from them again despite repeated attempts to contact them. And guess what – they weren’t all entrepreneurial. Telstra was one that springs to mind and another a mess of a place out at Box Hill.

    It’s even worse when you actually start the job. I worked at the risible Rehame for three months before it nearly killed me, working almost single-handedly on a $300k contract. I too cheered when they were eaten by Media Monitors, whose pay and work conditions outstripped Rehame’s significantly, by all accounts. Peter Maher was an odious, lecherous shit of a man who ran a cult.

    Another was a Sydney-based startup who said they wanted a full-timer, paid me as a contractor, lied about the conditions, sent me overseas for three months, didn’t pay me and then fired me for no reason.

    I’ll tell you the reality, IT and dot-com are full of these cretins and it doesn’t matter if the business is Telstra or a back-room web company, they infest the industry and give it the bad name it enjoys.

    So, in truth, it doesn’t matter that it was Abbywinters.com or knitmealovelypony.com, the industry is rife with jerks.

    /rant.

    • I agree with you – there is something about the commercial sociopath and the greed that they think will build them wealth via IT that makes it a particularly unpleasant industry to work in.

  6. If I turn on the television news one day to see Hall being sentenced to gaol time, it will be even more satisfying than Dow Digital’s bankruptcy. Bring it on.

    Surely you meant to say:

    If I turn on the television news one day to see Hall being sentenced to gaol time, I will be disgusted by the puritanical laws in this country. Or maybe upset by his illegal behaviour (if he’s found guilty of a real charge). However, if he goes bankrupt then this will be just desserts for his lack of professionalism.

    Wishing for bad laws to be used against someone for whom you bear an unrelated grudge seems a tad churlish.

    • I am rather amused to find my distrust of Hall’s business practices mirrored in these events. Of course the laws are bad, but many laws are bad. In a heirarchy of priorities, I would be campaigning for the decriminalisation of voluntary euthanasia, assisted suicide and recreational drug use, for the complete legal equality for gays and lesbians and other serious health issues before the antiquated laws that may prohibit the production of commercial porn.

      A more prudent person may have undertaken more comprehensive risk management and due diligence procedures, concluded that creating sexually explicit content in Victoria for profit was likely to be illegal and chosen to do business elsewhere.

  7. I can’t believe you went in for a THIRD interview!

  8. Brian, it takes entrepreneurial people with egos to make things happen, i.e. create jobs and GDP. Employers are expected, by staff, to be completely competent in everything but they are just ordinary people with guts, ambition, and maybe some capital, who become responsible for every mistake their employees make. If they can stay in business and create jobs for others they are performing a useful function.

    All managers have been proles at some stage but complaints like this almost always come from people who have never been managers. Recruiting is not, as you say, easy. It’s one of the most difficult things anyone in business has to do and if you’d been through the process you’d cut all these people some slack. Try sifting through a couple of hundred CV’s then sitting through hours of interviews, then trying to spot the candidate with the least lies in their resume; and they all want a personal analysis of why they didn’t get the job.

    You didn’t *have* to review the book for him, and there would have been nothing unprofessional on your part in saying after an hour or two that further discussion would be what you’re paid for, if you get the job. Sorry but this reads like sour grapes.

    • I have a lot of management experience and have done recruitement in several roles, so I know what it is like to be on the other side of the interview. This was not normal, and it certainly was not organised or professional.

  9. Brian, your final paragraph discredits any assertions that you were unfairly treated, really it says more about you then it does G-media’s recruitment ethics.

    One could say it even exposes the ‘flacid reality beneath’ your flippant and thoughtless bitterness but that would be just nasty.

    • As I explained, I had been writing this post for some time, and was planning to publish it once I resigned from my last job (and was thus able to talk about applying for jobs without bringing it to my last employer’s attention). The timing of Hall’s arrest was completely coincidental and I am merely enjoying the random irony of the situation. My flippant bitterness is the result of my experiences.

  10. Yes I understood all that. Your flippant bitterness appears rather excessive in relation to the fairly moderate slight you had to endure and the irony you are enjoying seems to me a little hypocritical.

  11. Wow. Really? People are actually okay with the treatment Brian got? Again, I think you partly brought it on yourself applying for a job at a porn site, but seriously, get a grip. Hall is a jerk who shouldn’t be advertising for positions he hasn’t got and if he changes things, he needs to be keeping the candidates updated.

    Obviously the site is being affected by the recession and his bonanza has dried up. Brian had his time massively wasted and the world is far too full of idiots like Hall.

    • I’d like to do a followup, more like what XO BS would like to read perhaps, about the economics behind this. Sources tell me Abby Winters is no longer hugely profitable as costs have increased faster than income, and subscribers get sated and stop renewing.

      The porn industry as a whole has given away so much free content as samples that, even without illegally sharing or pirating paid content, many porn users can satisfy themselves with legal free giveaways without paying for anything.

  12. It could be argued that Schadenfreude is in nature, often fundamentally hypocritical. Any emotional irrationality that should influence ones position does not mitigate a discrepancy between a belief system and a statement.

    Perhaps though I am mistaken, you are a civil libertarian yes? Am I making an incorrect assumption here, do you actually believe Garion should go to jail because of the content he is making? Perhaps you can clarify your position if I have misinterpreted it. However even if I have, Schadenfreude and or hypocrisy does not make for credible reportage.

    I also would be keen to read a follow up regarding your views on porn economies, as someone who is invested both emotionally and financially in this industry I always appreciate intelligent spaces in which to engage.

    • The underage charge is serious, but of course it remains to be determined whether any model was underage, and if she was what the cause was, such as inadequate record checks by Abby Winters or fake ID used by the model, etc. Otherwise I think consenting adults should be able to make whatever content they like. I rushed this post into the publication queue to coincide with the news about the company, so my schadenfreude was a complete coincidence.

  13. It’s a shame you had a bad experience. The Garion Hall I know is a professional, insightful and inspiring leader and a great company owner. I’ve been working with him in this company for several years and continue to do so today. He’s also quirky, a little OCD, somewhat eccentric and very direct at times. This mix can be off putting to some, sure, but your comments I think go too far.

    Garion and the company did not and have never done anything illegal. The turn of events however did create the opportunity for the company to move abroad. The total net result of the legal investigation and court case that followed was the ATO loosing a multimillion dollar company to another country. That’s it. Well done Australia!

    Interestingly, your comments about what laws you would focus on changing have all been addressed in our new home, The Netherlands, some centuries ago:

    “I would be campaigning for the decriminalisation of voluntary euthanasia, assisted suicide and recreational drug use, for the complete legal equality for gays and lesbians and other serious health issues before the antiquated laws that may prohibit the production of commercial porn.”

    The Dutch have of course very well written, mature, effective and ethical laws about pornography and prostitution as well. Funny that.

    So perhaps everyone wins here. AW is no longer any concern of Australia and is flourishing and expanding into an even better, inspiring and ethically leading company than it was.

    • You are wrong about the company doing nothing illegal. Abby Winters was convicted and fined $6000 for selling unclassified DVDs. DVD sales was a tiny fraction of the business yet Hall acted unprofessionally in not submitting them for classification. This is another example of the lack of judgement I describe, based on first hand experience, in my article.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.


You own the copyright of your comment. By submitting your comment you grant this site a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution.