Pandora NZ's former commercial director Melanie Reece lifts the lid on lawsuits, ‘bullying’ and ‘a toxic environment’—UPDATED

  • Media
  • May 12, 2016
  • Damien Venuto
Pandora NZ's former commercial director Melanie Reece lifts the lid on lawsuits, ‘bullying’ and ‘a toxic environment’—UPDATED

At the end of last year, Pandora NZ's commercial director Melanie Reece handed in her resignation at the company.

“I made the decision for the sake of my health and the happiness of my family to leave Pandora of my own accord,” she says.

StopPress found out about her resignation several weeks ago and sent an email to the PR team asking for information about a replacement.

And earlier this week, Pandora responded, after several more requests, with a press release confirming the appointment of former mi9 managing director James Butcher as the new manager of sales in the New Zealand market.

Unsurprisingly, that release did not feature Reece’s name and it also didn’t include the fact that she had instituted legal action against Pandora.

StopPress understands Reece has instituted a personal grievance case against the music-streaming company. 

Reece would not comment on specific details of the lawsuit, but she did open up to StopPress about what led to her instituting the action.

Reece says that while her tenure at the company started well, circumstances deteriorated over the last 12 months.

“I set up the New Zealand business, we met all the targets set for us and we did everything we were supposed to,” she explains.  

But then she says the Australian business started struggling, which led to Pandora changing its approach in the local market.    

“All our resources were taken back to Australia to try and fix the problems there.”  

Reece says this created massive pressure on the local team, an issue she claims was further exacerbated by Pandora managing director for Australia and New Zealand Jane Huxley.

'Corporate bullying'

She says the environment at Pandora became “toxic” and that it affected all staff.

Reece says Huxley’s managerial style sometimes amounted to "corporate bullying", which she explains can take a number of forms according to the legal definition.

“You usually think of bullying as someone slamming their fists on the table and yelling profanities at someone, [but] bullying can be setting up to fail. It can be setting targets that are unachievable. Bullying can be non-response to conflict, which is what happened to me.”

Reece says she raised the issue of Huxley’s management with the Pandora headquarters in the United States.

“Someone was clearly in trouble and asking for help, and rather than sort it out, they sent information through that they were backing the managing director and that they didn’t believe there’s a problem.”

Reece points to the number of lawsuits as a significant indicator of the fact that there is a problem in the way the company is being run.

“Across the last 12 months, there were three lawsuits that I’m aware of where employees took legal action against Pandora in Australia because of the managing director’s unfair treatment,” she says.

Reece says that Pandora has taken no steps to address the issue.

“I was a director and I knew of the three cases that went before me of unfair treatment. And I saw, for whatever reason, Pandora putting its effort into her and fighting those cases or spending hundreds of thousands of dollars settling them, rather than actually going to the root cause of the problem.”

Not about the money

Reece says that she has not instituted the lawsuit against the company in a bid to make money.

“The money was never what drove me. It was the principle that you actually can’t treat people like that.”

She says she is now telling the story about her experiences at the company in an effort to "make sure it never happens again”.

She also sees her story as important to executives who think of working for multinational companies in New Zealand.  

“[It’s] a cautionary tale against international companies setting up shop in New Zealand and not abiding by the same principles a New Zealand company would,” she says.

“Kiwis who are thinking about joining a big corporation should do due diligence and find out about the local [branch of the] business.”

Reece says that in her 23 years in the media industry, she has never encountered circumstances like these. 

“I’m a senior media executive. I’ve helped turn a company around after liquidation, I launched the integration team at MediaWorks when they were in receivership and I’m totally used to doing really hard turnaround and launch media jobs. But I just got to the stage last year that I thought that this is just so incredibly unfair.”

She has since taken up a new position at Lightning Lab and says she is happy with the decision she made to leave Pandora. 

Reece was not willing to share any further information about Pandora, but just this week she says there was another departure from the company's executive board, with marketing director Nicole McInnes also resigning.

Pandora has been asked to respond to Reece's claims and to confirm the departure of McInnes. After initially saying there would be no comment, it said a comment was in the process of being approved. We'll update the story when it arrives. 

Update 1: Pandora comment

Pandora sent through two statements shortly after publication of this story. 

Of Reece's departure, Chris Freel, Pandora ANZ commercial director, said: "Melanie Reece resigned from Pandora for personal and family reasons with the full support of Pandora, departing in February 2016". 

Freel added: "As a result of Reece’s departure, Pandora has taken the opportunity to support the future growth of the ANZ business by regionalising the sales function by broadening my scope as commercial director, across both Australia and New Zealand. This is an exciting stage of our evolution as we progress from early start-up to a business focused on scaling and growth. With the scaling up of ANZ, We have constructed a commercial leadership team appointing regional sales directors Rachel Page (VIC/SA/SA), Fiona Roberts (NSW & QLD), James Butcher (NZ) and client strategy director Shaun Alexander. Our regionalised commercial structure allows improved focus and commercial collaboration across the entire ANZ business."

A spokesperson for the company also sent through a statement on McInnes' departure, saying "Nicole McInnes has resigned to take on an exciting new opportunity outside of the music industry".

StopPress has still not received comment in regard to the legal action.  

Update 2: Former sales manager for Melbourne speaks out

Given the concerns raised by some commenters that Reece's story might be an isolated employment dispute, we sought additional on-the-record comment from other sources.  

Pandora's former group sales manager for Melbourne Matthew Hunt, who also took legal action against company upon his departure from the company last year, says that Reece's story is consistent with his experiences at the company. 

"While I have no continuing relationship with Pandora, Mel’s current grievances appear to be consistent with my past experience," he told StopPress. 

He also confirmed that he was aware of several lawsuits that had been taken against the company.

"Given the continuing departure of quality staff, there seems to be a pattern of behaviour that is impacting more than one employee and clearly shouldn't be dismissed as an isolated event," he said. 

"Endemic bullying appears to remain unaddressed despite being elevated. Workplace culture is always driven at the most senior levels and there is never a place for bullying or harassment of subordinates, particularly when it is based on failure to reach unrealistic business objectives. This type of leadership behaviour is of course directly correlated to business performance and staff morale."

He also said that he hopes Reece's decision to speak out leads to change at the company.

"Given the quality of their local support staff, Pandora management have the opportunity to ensure viability in a competitive region and perhaps Mel's actions may trigger the leadership behavioural changes that she, and perhaps others in the business, is looking for."

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