New Name for SSG?

SSG: Silly Stupid Games, perhaps? Apart from when you’re playing with people’s livelihoods and jobs, because then it’s not a game, is it?

It strikes me as particularly ironic that having started the day by promoting Mark Greene’s Christian Life & Work DVD this morning in my post about Small Group Resources, I now end it with a report on the latest shenanigans at SSG. Maybe someone could set themselves the task of producing a DVD on the topic of being a Christian employer? It could start with lessons in how not to fire your staff…

Yes, you’ve guessed it: another round, apparently, of firing-by-email. I have in front of me an email, apparently from Mr Phillip W Brewer, addressed to “Staff (in Chester)”. Dated June 1st it states:

Effectively immediately, all former SPCK Bookshops being operated by the SSG trading company are to be staffed by a new management company. Should you wish to continue your employment at the Chester bookshop, you may do so by applying for a position with the new company. The company which will operate the bookshops is ENC Management Company.

This is not a transfer of your employment under TUPE. Rather, this is notification to you by St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust that the trading company known as SSG (St Stephen the Great, a limited liability company) will no longer be operating the bookshop. 

I’m told that the staff have been in touch with their union and are being advised on how to proceed. Or not, as the case may be: who can say?

I invited the Booksellers Association (BA) — of which SSG and I both happen to be members — to comment, but have been told that there can be “no official or unofficial response from the BA, the ruling body of which has in this case specifically taken the established line that we do not comment on how members run their businesses.” That’s OK, then, I guess: I can abuse my employees as much as I like and no one’s going to hold me responsible. Where did I read that story about someone washing his hands? 

In the midst of the nightmares, some good news: Dave Walker’s Cartoon Church Blog is back online, albeit at a temporary location: http://cartoonchurch.wordpress.com/ — welcome back, Dave!

Please feel free to post your own suggestions on what SSG or the new initials ENC might really stand for…

Update 5th June 2008
Have just been informed that the Brewers have now advised staff that they can continue to work under their old contracts whilst SSG takes legal advice… watch this space…

Update 6th June 2008
Dave Walker has posted a copy of an email “sent to most if not all of the former SPCK shops by Mark Brewer” which states:

SSG (St Stephen the Great – limited liability company) has been terminated as the trading company to operate the bookshops formerly known as SPCK Bookshops.

From: SSG files for bankruptcy.

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17 responses to “New Name for SSG?

  1. I worked for a Christian organisation.

    Once.

    Never again.

    “Dear landlord, I’m terribly sorry my rent cheque bounced, please don’t evict me, this was due to the non-payment of my wages by my employer.”

    Shudder.

  2. Pingback: Former SPCK shops - now run by ‘ENC Management Company’? « CartoonChurch backup site

  3. Phelim McIntyre

    Email to vendore-accounts@spckonline.com and you get this message:

    SSG (St Stephen the Great), the charitable trading company conducting business at the former SPCK Bookshops, has filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in Houston, Texas. The case number is 08-33689-H1 11. This case is recorded in England and accordingly, all adverse actions and all actions in either the U.S. or the U.K. purporting to affect the property or rights or liabilities of SSG are prohibited in accordance with the automatic stay provisions of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Similarly, efforts to collect an alleged debt from SSG are subject to the automatic stay provisions of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Saint Stephen the Great LLC

  4. Stunned by this, Phelim… yet at the same time, not entirely surprised. How is it possible for someone to make such a pig’s ear of running a business? Give them a multi-million pound stock and property portfolio and they run it completely into the ground. Utterly mind-boggling!

  5. Phil.

    You come across as very naive in your attitude towards the BA and SSG.

    You probably have the leasy risky job in the christian book industry (managing a christian bookshop in a theology school) but you find it very easy to critise people in larger organsiations who have to deal with complicated and fragile situations where there is no easy fix.

    If you had to run the BA or SSG for a day I doubt you’d have a clue where to start – so why not see things from their perspective before making such withering criticisms.

    Steph,

    PS I can’t believe you tried to suggest that the BA’s attitude is similar to Pilate washing his hands. Very OTT and unlikely to aid good relations with the BA!

  6. Sorry if that’s how you see it, Steph.

    For the record, however, my job is no more secure than any other in the sector: if I don’t sell enough to at least break even I’ll soon be unemployed. And students, my main customer base, are on very tight budgets; and theology students are just as canny as any others when it comes to finding the best deals. I am constantly bleeding business to Amazon, the Books Depository and Eden, to name but a few of my competitors. Same is true of the college staff. No one is forcing anyone to buy from me: I have to fight for every sale.

    As for the SSG situation… I’ve been monitoring it for a considerable time now, long enough, I think to have a fair idea of what’s going on. As for the BA: the BA has no constituency apart from its members and I am an active member, serving on one of their group committees. I’m not an outsider looking in: I’m an insider questioning what’s going on within my organisation and being met by a brick wall of silence.

    I make no claims about having the ability or wisdom to run the BA; and nor do I speak for the BA. As for SSG: I wish I’d known that SPCK was actually prepared to give the whole thing away — I’d have loved to have had the opportunity that the Brewers appear to have blown.

    So who are you and where do you fit in?

  7. Phil, I’m not a lawyer (far from it!), but Chapter 11 bankruptcy is often considered a “milder” form of bankruptcy than other filing methods that are available. It generally signals that a business wants protection from its creditors while re-organizing itself, working out payment methods, and so forth. It also often means that the people operating the business intend for it to continue to exist. More severe forms involve the shutting down of a business and the liquidation of its remaining assets to pay off creditors.

    So when I read this, I thought (and I’ll bet many Americans would), “What are they up to now?” as opposed to “Poor them” or even “Bad managers.” They’ve been at the lawyering business for a long time down there in Texas, and they know the law well enough to use it for their own advantage.

    It has seemed to me for a long time that their biggest mistake was in underestimating their new “public,” the British people. I’d have to say that’s been done a few times before in history, and the consequences have often been bad for the underestimators. I think it will be interesting to watch. I don’t think they’re gone–just re-grouping to try something else.

  8. Hi Anne,

    Like yourself I immediately thought now what are they up to: particularly as some of the info and emails coming up seem not to fit that well with a chapter 11!

    So the question I have is what’s the low down on ENC Managment – who and what are they?? as I can find no reference to them – and having read Chapter 11 info (http://www.uscourts.gov/bankruptcycourts/bankruptcybasics/chapter11.html#transfer) I couldn’t see where it stated or verified MR Brewers statements made to employees – in fact in point of reference it makes a lot of noise about Debtor In Possession and being able to continue running the business whilst, like Anne said, the new plan is formulated and re-organisation occurs!

    ‘Upon filing a voluntary petition for relief under chapter 11 or, … the debtor automatically assumes an additional identity as the “debtor in possession.” 11 U.S.C. § 1101. The term refers to a debtor that keeps possession and control of its assets while undergoing a reorganization under chapter 11, without the appointment of a case trustee. A debtor will remain a debtor in possession until the debtor’s plan of reorganization is confirmed, the debtor’s case is dismissed or converted to chapter 7, or a chapter 11 trustee is appointed. The appointment or election of a trustee occurs only in a small number of cases. Generally, the debtor, as “debtor in possession,” operates the business and performs many of the functions that a trustee performs in cases under other chapters’.

    Unless of course they have claimed chapter 11 and then immediately gone ahead and filed for liquidation, rather than the more normal chapter 7 route!

    Being the inquisitive and legal minded sort I also found it interesting that the new Durham and Chichester trading co’s are registered with a country of origin as Australia! – by the way who are Lynn Yard and Bradley Smith, because they are cited on the Companies House listing and as such they may possibly end up in the future being liable to some extent being now legally tied up with the registration details up on Companies House?

    This seems to me very interesting – given all that is going on and has gone on and with ENC showing up but no clearer details on the filing for chapter 11 and the two shops being outsourced prior to the bankruptcy filing I find this definition to be of great interest:

    “Bankruptcy Fraud

    Bankruptcy, by definition, is when a debtor is declared – either by creditors or his own account – legally insolvent. His property is liquidated and divided among his creditors to pay his debts. But when a debtor falsely claims bankruptcy, attempts to conceal his assets, launches petition mills or files multiple claims, he is committing bankruptcy fraud – a federal offense.
    Types of Bankruptcy Fraud

    Concealment of assets, petition mills, and multiple filings are the most common types of bankruptcy fraud.
    Concealment of Assets

    Concealment of assets accounts for nearly 70 percent of all fraudulent bankruptcy cases filed by individuals. This type of fraud occurs when a person purposely fails to list every one of his assets on his bankruptcy claim, knowing that creditors cannot liquidate valuables of which they are not aware. Similarly, business owners frequently conceal assets when filing for bankruptcy – they transfer money or properties to their relatives’ or associates’ names so that the assets cannot be confiscated.”
    http://www.lawyershop.com/news/practice-areas/criminal-law/white-collar-crimes/bankruptcy-fraud/

    How sad this is – especially for all the staff & ex-staff who are the ones that yet again are made to suffer for the actions of the owners of the company.

    By the way Phil, I agree that the BA should at least be sending out something to remind the poor staff that the BA does have a help line they could at least contact given their preior employee’s are members! and like you I too wish more people in a position to speak out would and say that when something is wrong it is wrong, even if all they say is that they are sorry for the staff and the fact that our business is being brought into ill-repute by the acts of some!

    Oh and I too would have taken on SPCK for Free, heck I know lots of people that wanted to take on bits of SPCK and even offered management buy outs and real money!

  9. Probably ought to mention BTBS, the Book Trade Charity: http://www.booktradecharity.demon.co.uk/

    BTBS Helpline: Freephone 0808 100 2304

    They say, “We offer support to anyone who has a problem, financial, personal or work-related and who has worked in the book trade for more than one year as an employee or freelance”

  10. justflyingkites

    mm might be on to something here. According to advice from USDAW (they say they have not had enough time to research thoroughly)a charity registered in Britain cannot be made insolvent through the American courts. USDAW has discovered that the ENC management company consists of the Brewer brothers and one of their wives.

    As for hiding their assets – the two independent shops have been told to deposit takings in a new bank account in the name of Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust.

  11. Phelim McIntyre

    Justflyingkites – Durham and Chichester companies were founded in Australia. ENC Management (the new name for SSG) was founded in America. All three companies were founded on 11th March 2008. This appears to have been planned for sometime. Sandra Brewer who is the ENC Director is also a trustee for St Stephen the Great. It would appear they are trying to keep St Stephen the Great going and drop the SSG-LLC bit because the anouncement is SSG-LLC has been operating the shops on behalf of St Stephen the Great, that SSG-LLC is now bankrupt and ENC have taken over. The issue is St Stephen the Great is SSG-LLC, they have the same charity number. So how can St Stephen the Great be carrying on if SSG-LLC is bankrupt as they are the same body?

  12. Thanks for that, Phelim. Can you tell us where you found the info about the new companies, please?

    Meanwhile, I’ve fired up a new discussion to explore these questions further: Questions Raised over SSG ‘Bankruptcy’

  13. Pingback: Questions Raised over SSG ‘Bankruptcy’ « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  14. Pingback: Former SPCK shops: Is SSG’s ‘bankruptcy’ legitimate? » The Cartoon Blog by Dave Walker

  15. Pingback: Former SPCK shops: Is SSG’s ‘bankruptcy’ legitimate? « CartoonChurch backup site

  16. I think it’s time for an investigation into possible fraud.

  17. Phelim McIntyre

    Phil – look on the company house site under ENC Shop Management, Chichester Shop Management, and Durham Cathedral Shop Management

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