It turned out to be one of the most remarkable birthdays of my life, although the fact it was my birthday was a happy coincidence. I spent last evening with a group of SAIF employees, finally having the opportunity to put some “faces to the nameless” that I have come to know through the ongoing SAIF/Plotkin affair. And even though I had never met a single person in the crowded room, it felt like we’d known each other forever. More on that in a moment.

Some time back John Plotkin indicated that he would like to meet should the opportunity ever present itself. Regular readers will know Plotkin is the man terminated by SAIF Corporation in a maneuver that made Laurel and Hardy look like skilled corporate strategists. That opportunity presented itself this week, during the Oregon Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference, being held here in Portland. My company handled the online registrations for that conference, and is a Gold Sponsor of the event. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to meet the man about whom I’ve written a fairly significant amount.

Truth be told, I’ve written so much about Plotkin and the despicable way he was treated that I felt like I already knew him. 

Plotkin’s wife, Kim, emailed me a few weeks back telling me a few employees would like to meet me, and asking if it would be ok to set up a “Happy Hour” prior to our dinner. Now thoroughly immersed in this story, and, of course, figuring there would be people to buy me drinks, I welcomed the opportunity. While the weather here was not exactly cooperative, and the freezing rain and cold prevented some people from making the trip, I still had the opportunity to meet and mingle with between 20 and 30 SAIF employees last night. (I really did not take an accurate count. Besides, the number in my mind will eventually grow to 400 or so)

The bond I feel with these people at this point is difficult to describe, and I get the impression their sentiments are similar. While we talked and laughed about a variety of things, the conversation naturally centered on the common element, their employer. In talking to them last night, I picked up on something that had not been blatantly evident to me from 3,000 miles away. While this story is far from over, things are changing within SAIF Corporation. 

SAIF traditionally has been a tightly controlled, “top down” corporation. The rules and atmosphere were rigid – and by rigid I mean completely inflexible; where micro-managing every aspect of the operation was the order of the day. A company where using the wrong font or inappropriate spacing after a period in an email could literally end a budding career. The employees told me last night, that as a result of the fallout surrounding what they now call “Plotkin-gate”, the changes they are starting to see are “unprecedented” in the history of their company. 

They credit this blog for providing information that they otherwise would never have seen. They describe their management working in what is, for them, uncharted territory, responding to the exposure of information that they used to rigidly control. They described how their company was changing in ways they never expected, and most importantly, some told me that fear they once held had been replaced with a new confidence that things can and will be better. They didn’t use the words, but what they described was a growing empowerment within the rank and file at SAIF Corporation. 

For a brief moment as I stood with these people, I understood how Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz felt after she splashed water on the witch. 

To be very clear, the witch in my metaphor is not a single individual, but rather the pre-Plotkin culture that existed at SAIF – although the fact that the witch in the movie used flying monkeys to do her evil bidding may be a delicious irony only SAIF employees will appreciate. It was a culture of control and intimidation, of one way information management. It was a culture from another time and place; and one that could not withstand the light of truth and ideas available in the Information Age. 

It is true my blog was instrumental in providing critical information that may be driving this change, but it is nothing special that I have done. A publishing monkey could have accomplished the same thing. It is the information in the hands of employees that is pushing the changes we see. This is turning into an incredibly unique story that will one day be used in Business school case studies; Crisis Creation and Management in the Information Age. 

But today, for SAIF, things are in flux. Much remains to be done. The needed changes at the top have yet to occur, but the pressure beneath them is building. Leaders are emerging from the rubble of controversy, and employees, who think of their company as a family, are expecting people above them to do the right thing.

I will allow most in attendance last night to remain in anonymity. However, I will mention two such rank and file employees in attendance that have emerged as leaders in this effort. I was very pleased to meet Brandon and Krystal Smith, two SAIF employees who decided to honestly speak their minds about what they have seen. They have published their own articles on the issue, and have openly addressed the Board of Directors with their concerns. Last night Brandon announced that a SAIF Employee Advisory Group (I may not have that name right. I was not taking notes, and as indicated, there were people buying drinks) had been formed and recognized by SAIF. It will work with the CEO and the Executive Council on internal issues within SAIF on employees behalf. I will stress this is not a union style effort looking to improve the benefits of employees, but rather concerned employees looking to improve their company for the benefit of all.  

Brandon had done a little research on my blog, and announced to the group that I had written 41 articles on “Plotkin-Gate”, totaling 38,000 words. The collection of articles had garnered over 1,700 comments. He then presented me with a plaque, pictured below. It simply reads, “Presented to Robert Wilson by the Employees of SAIF Corporation In Appreciation of His Significant Efforts to Shed Light on “Plotkin-Gate”. Your Search for the Truth with Integrity and Humor Is an Inspiration”.

Very humbling – and not too bad for a publishing monkey. 

This story isn’t over, and I know I will be adding to those 38,000 words. Unlike some people at SAIF, I actually understand the concept of owning something, and I feel the proprietary obligation to finish the work we’ve started. Changes are underway in Oregon. How easily they come, and from where they are driven remains to be seen, but I’ll let everyone know about them, that is a promise.

And my dinner with the Plotkin’s? Terrific. John Plotkin remained fairly quiet during the Happy Hour, expressing his gratitude but obviously unable to discuss anything related to SAIF due to pending litigation. At our dinner we discussed a wide range of topics, and it just felt as if I had known these people for years. I hope I left the same impression – you never know; people had been buying drinks, after all.

To SAIF employees, thank you (from the bottom of my heart!) for your acknowledgment and support. You are definitely not in Oz anymore. It is my honor to add another 1,280 words to your continuing story. 


For a list of Bob’s other SAIF/Plotkin articles (as well as a couple old AASCIF articles that get picked up in the search), Click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *