Until that happens: Words of Wisdom from Anne at Atelier Beads

Phil Groom writes:

Anne at Atelier Beads has been posting here periodically  ever since Dave Walker received his infamous take-down notice from Mark Brewer.

Responding to my post Empathising with the Enemy, Anne offers the following words of wisdom, words which also seem be an appropriate follow up to David Keen’s call to leave room for repentance and change: 

1) If you’re going to take over the operation of a business, you’d better find out how that particular business works. Doesn’t matter if it’s a grocer’s, a sporting goods store, or a bookshop chain. If it’s to succeed, management needs specialized knowledge.

2) If you’re going to travel to a foreign country, and especially if you’re planning to do business there, you’d better acquaint yourself with the laws and customs of that country. Whether it’s complex issues like pensions and taxes or simple things like when people are accustomed to taking their lunch breaks or days off, any prudent business person would take the time to acquire this knowledge. Larger companies now hold orientations for their staff who travel. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago.

3) If you are a lay Christian desirous of doing missionary work, it’s only common sense to submit yourself to the direction of your church’s leadership (bishops and priests in this case) both in your home country and in the country you plan to work in. This is certainly the religious and spiritual equivalent of Item 2. Jesus himself gave careful instructions to his disciples before he sent them off to do missionary work. A lot of those instructions involved their contacts with the locals.

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that any of this was done. We therefore have a failing business venture, a lot of maltreated employees, and apparently a lot of co-religionists who are insulted and outraged. There was still time, when things began to go bad for the Brewers, for them to step back, make a realistic assessment, and gather their forces to move along on a better path. They chose not to do that. Instead, they resorted to a lot of clumsy and questionable legal tactics (slapdowns, threats of lawsuits, bogus bankruptcies) in a futile attempt to cover up their many mistakes and to escape the consequences.

It would be lovely to hear that they’d repented of at least some of this and intended to make amends. I think until that happens it’s probably more important to look after and help the injured.

For all the bitterness and anger that many may, quite rightly, feel towards the Brewers, let’s keep that final sentence in mind as the reason we’re here. And let’s join with Anne in offering this prayer for justice:

Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

35 responses to “Until that happens: Words of Wisdom from Anne at Atelier Beads

  1. I can’t help thinking this is incompetence rather than deliberate – but of course I have no direct experience of the situation. My suspicion is that the brothers convinced themselves that they would succeed (including getting Anglican and Orthodox bishops onside initially) and were rather floored when it all went wrong.

    Attempting to look at it from the other side, I’m guessing that the Brewers were rather embarrassed by the reaction to their initial website (which IIRC wasn’t actually online in its original form for long) and then compounded the issue with heavy-handed management and poor economic decisions. That is no comfort to the suppliers and staff that are still owed money, nor does it explain the bewildering carousel of daughter businesses that were created.

    As the thing spiralled – and presumably SPCK bookshops cannot have been in the greatest of states when they were ‘sold’ anyway – the brother’s plate spinning became more and more frenetic.

    So I guess I want to say this: There is nothing inherently evil with wanting a chain of Orthodox bookshops, although it seems clear that there is insufficient demand for this to be viable at the moment. Given the apparent lack of other options, it isn’t too surprising that SPCK tried to work with anyone who was taking an interest in their struggling chain. That said, for the reasons explained in this post, it was rather unlikely that the new management would have been able to turn the fortunes around. The incompetence of the Brewers just made a bad situation considerably worse.

  2. There’s incompetence and there’s malevolence. As someone who experienced the Brewer’s management technique I would say, sorry Joe, much as I would like to put it all down to the former, I can’t. Yes, the shops weren’t in good shape financially (and I can write you a whole paper on that and the remedies required, if necessary) and yes, they didn’t have a clue how to run a chain of bookshops. But the way they treated the staff transcended mere incompetence. It was bordering on the malicious. Working conditions were made intolerable for the majority of the staff. People were forced from their jobs by very dubious means. All thought of redundancy pay was quashed. Legal rights were flouted. Customers who were not orthodox were virtually treated as heretics – the Brewer’s didn’t really seem to want to keep the shops’ core business.

    So, yes they were incompetent – but they were the worst sort of incompetents because they were vicious with it and with no conception of their own failings.

    And no, there would have been nothing wrong with a chain of orthodox bookshops in the UK. It could have been exciting. But the shops weren’t given the opportunity to properly develop in that direction either.

  3. As an outsider looking in (despite my involvement here, my personal dealings with the SPCK Bookshops before all this chaos with the Brewers broke out were only ever as a customer) I have to agree with Pax. Much as I’d like to believe it was simple incompetence — I’m sure that’s what the Brewers would now like us to think — but having seen the way they’ve dealt with people, I think we are looking at actual malice: deliberate attempts to alienate, humiliate and isolate staff with the specific intention of driving them out to make way for so-called ‘missionary’ volunteers. As Pax says, they really weren’t interested in the shops’ core business: they were opportunists who saw the shop locations as their chance to set up ‘mission outposts’ in UK Cathedral Cities.

    Sad to say, the attempts to alienate, humiliate etc. worked, to the point where, as Matt Wills reminded us yesterday, one man killed himself — and J Mark Brewer has yet to offer even so much as an apology for forcing the take down of Dave Walker’s page of tributes to that man.

    Orthodoxy is as orthodoxy does: and what Mark and Philip Brewer have done is so unorthodox, so reprehensible, that the Orthodox Church here in the UK wants absolutely nothing to do with them.

    So once again I echo that prayer: “Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression” — and that means no peace with the Brewers until or unless they turn around and begin to show true signs of a changed attitude rather then just flowery words expressing remorse to the US Courts because they’ve been caught out.

    Paying Lindsey Stokes would be a good place to start.

  4. Being far away from both the Brewers and the former SPCK Bookshops, I’m in no position to jusge the Brewers’ motives. But their actions and their effects seem to have been bad for all concerned, and that calls for repentance.

    The principles outlined in this post are good oens, and I hope anyone else trying to do anything similar will not just bear them in mind, but apply them.

  5. Valiant for Truth

    I echo waht Pax says, and when talking about mission it would be good to remember taht the SPCK shops were part of a 300 year old mission agency, which had always been ecumenical in its outreach, so booshop staff always felt a mission element in their work.

  6. Well, I have to admit I got interested in all of this by virtue of being a fan of Dave Walker. I stuck around because I happen to have a server, and there was a time, when the slapdowns were flying thick and fast, when that might have been useful.

    Since we’ve heard from several Orthodox Christians, I might as well confess: I happen to be an American. And I’m an unabashedly patriotic one. I love my country and its people. I also happen to be a big fan of Texas. I went there for the first time about ten years ago, on business, fully prepared NOT to like it. I ended up being totally won over by the warm hospitality and genuine welcome I received. I’d love to go back there any time.

    Having said all that, and from that viewpoint, the Brewers meet the most classic, textbook standards for the “Ugly American” that I have seen in a long, long time. And I refer to the book by that name published a generation ago. I am absolutely mortified by their tactics and their methods. To see people using a model that was a proven failure as far back as the Sixties is–well, it’s mesmerizing. I suspect they are too arrogant to read or benefit from the book, just as I suspect they are too arrogant to study and profit (at several levels) from the lessons learned by more successful American companies doing business in this global economy.

    They’re an embarrassment to their country, that’s for sure. And, yes, they need to pay Ms. Stokes and all her co-workers. That would just be for openers . . .

  7. It might be a bit like gambling… you keep on going and going, even when you’re losing, in the hope everything works out alright…

  8. Well said Wills

  9. you could call me by my first name… 🙂

  10. Sorry Matt. Didn’t mean to sound like a teacher from of old. Call me asingleblog.

  11. you are forgiven. 🙂

  12. Gambling: never wise, but OK I guess if it’s your own money you’re playing the fool with — but when it’s other people’s livelihoods and welfare…

    Steve and Anne: just for the record, I am neither anti-American nor anti-Orthodox. I hope that nothing I’ve said would give that impression, but just wanted to make it clear. On the contrary, I very much appreciate much that the USA and Orthodoxy bring to the UK — especially in the Christian bookselling scene.

    That the Brewers happen to combine the worst possible extremes of both is an unfortunate coincidence, and it’s encouraging to see their behaviour called into question and condemned by more moderate voices.

    Picking up on Joe’s point earlier: there is indeed “nothing inherently evil with wanting a chain of Orthodox bookshops” — and again, I hope that nothing I’ve said would give the impression that that’s how I’d see it. On the contrary, re-reading Steve’s post again, Avoiding mistakes in mission, I’d warmly welcome someone who took such a carefully thought through approach to running a chain of bookshops here.

  13. Far from it, Phil! I think people have been admirably restrained in that regard. It just occurred to me as I was reading those genuinely chilling accounts of last year’s “management retreat,” that these people would never–not in a million years–be able to get away with that sort of behavior here. One word to the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) would cause a world of hurt for any company leadership that tried those shenanigans. Yet these two had the temerity (actually, I want to say the “unmitigated gall”) to go overseas and pull these stunts.

    I’ve eaten a lot of bad food on company weekends, and I’ve listened to a lot of bad speeches. But I’ve never been coerced into observing the religious dietary customs of management, nor have I been required to listen to speeches regarding their theology.

    So why should these people be subjected to it? Shameful!

  14. I used to think that the Brewers actions were incompetant rather than malicious but soon changed my mind when I saw how they treated the staff.
    Staff who were “targeted” were bullied and treated shamfully followed by “gleeful “phonecalls to the shop asking if the staff member concerned had gone yet!
    As for knowing that a shop was to be closed within days and ordering stock which was later sent to other branches (unpaid) seems to me criminal rather than incompetant.
    But I find most galling is that they continually play the Christain card when it suits them.

  15. Annie I think that so many individuals (even recent staff) have been treated so badly that it might take them time to recover and then un-cover the Brewers. Your comment about phonecalls after a sacking is a case in point.

    There are cases where the Brewers have expected people to sleep on bookshop floors for two weeks in order to keep a shop open.

  16. That is true about the Christian card, that has been used alot by the Brewers lately…whereas critics have gone beyond that and got some hard facts

  17. I’ve talked a bit about this on my blog for today

  18. The comments about bookshop floors and phonecalls should be put together, now that people are starting to be more open with what actually happened under SSG management. Phil’s ‘collecting the evidence’ page is still quite sparse – it would be good to start making use of this.

  19. As David says, it’s testimonials like this that we need if we’re going to build a strong case against the Brewers. I already have some interesting reports that it wouldn’t be prudent to share publicly at present.

    Please remember that I can be contacted privately through the Contact page (under Help in the navbar across the top of every page).

  20. Matt Wills – can’t seem to post on your site (so sorry, Phil for intruding on yours to moan about someone else’s grammar), but is the double negative in the penultimate sentence of your post about the Brewers playing the Christian card meant to be there?

  21. Pax, I couldn’t post on the Matt Wills site either Please don’t ever correct my grammar.

  22. No worries, Pax 🙂

    Presumably it’s this sentence of MW’s you’re referring to: “The Brewers have been unable to find any real content that is not based on evidence, so they resort to describing the principle of criticising SSG as ‘un-Christian’.”

    Makes sense to me: the double negative cancels out and we end up with The Brewers have only been able to find content that is based on evidence….

    When JMB threatened me with libel action I publicly invited him to identify the supposedly libellous material in my content. He has not done so.

    Mark, old chap: if you’re reading this, that invitation’s still open…

  23. Phil, I agree with what David K has said–it will be good to get a collection of these stories going. Of course there will be some that it’s not prudent to publicize. That’s understandable. But a good example of a story that needs telling is that of this “staff conference” that has me so incensed. I’d like to read about that in a narrative form. After reading the posts on the subject, it becomes obvious that Mr. B. didn’t “lose” the support of his managers as we’ve read so often. He threw it away, just as hard as he could, with both hands.

  24. Guys, i’ve just tried posting on my site [not moving my blogger i.d obviously] and it worked for me. after clicking on ‘comments’ you can post with an open id form other platforms like wordpress, a blogger i.d, or just your name and url, or even anonomously. what problems did you encounter?

  25. and apologies for the double-negatives e.t.c, have a very dodgy writing style…:)

  26. Anyone who was at that Staff Conference willing to write up a report, please, as per Anne’s request above? It can be posted anon/pseudonymously if you wish: just send it to me via the Contact page or as an email attachment…

  27. Now, I’m still confused – I thought it should be: ‘The Brewers have been unable to find any real content that is based on evidence’. In other words they couldn’t find anything evidential to support their case and thus ended up throwing us before the House of Un-Christian Activity.

    Re: the Final Managers’ Conference – I’ve a suspicion that I’ve written about it elsewhere, will have to check. However, most of it has been blotted from my memory. Oh, the horror, the horror!

  28. no pax, it is the content of the critics that is based on evidence, and so the Brewers resort to the christian card.

  29. Phelim McIntyre

    I have piles of envidence that I am working through, the problem is a lot would need editing in someway to make sure sources are anonymous – and there is a lot that I can’t post due to ongoing legal action and I am not allowed to.

  30. OK, I stand corrected. Basically, we, the critics, hold all the evidential cards and thus the Brewers have to resort to playing a rather dog-eared Joker. Which has no value because we are trying to play Happy Families (Mr B Format, the Bookseller; Mr Returns, the Rep; Miss Take, the Copy Editor, etc).

  31. who would have thought my grammar would spark such a debate…

  32. Indeed. Shouldn’t there be a question mark on the end of that sentence? Not to mention a capital ‘W’ at the beginning… 😉

    (Sorry, Matt, couldn’t resist it…)

  33. Very funny Phil… but technically that concerns spelling and punctuation, not grammar.

    (Sorry Phil, couldn’t resist it…)

  34. Pingback: American Werewolves in Durham « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

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