3 Razer ex-employees from S'pore office say they constantly feared getting fired

They also said they were overworked.

Belmont Lay | December 16, 2019, 04:49 PM

Kotaku ran an exposé on Dec. 5, which claimed that Singaporean Tan Min-Liang, the CEO of gaming hardware maker Razer, was a mercurial and dictatorial boss who berated his employees publicly.

The article focused on the 42-year-old founder's behaviour as witnessed by former staff in the United States offices.

What about the Singapore offices?

Following the publication of the Kotaku report, Mothership.sg got in touch with three former Razer employees who worked in the Singapore office for between one to two years, to ask them about their personal experiences with the CEO and their former work place.

The exact years of their employment cannot be revealed as it could end up exposing their identities, or shortlisting the possibilities of who they are.

But all three worked in Razer fairly recently.

All three of them described the operations there as "small and tight", which explains why they might out themselves inadvertently, if precise details of their employment and roles were made public.

Before this article's publication, Razer was offered a chance to respond to the various specific claims made by the former employees.

Razer declined to comment.

What was work culture like in the Razer Singapore office?

One of the ex-staff said working in Razer here is a "gamer boy's dream" as there are many like-minded gamers in the company.

However, gaming within working hours, such as during lunch time, took place but did not happen that much because there was simply too much work to deal with most of the time.

This view is consistent with the Kotaku article which said staff there worked 60 to 100 hours a week.

One of the ex-staff in Singapore also said the culture in Razer is not as cool as the outer world thinks it is.

The ex-staff explained: "There is a lot of toxicity trickling down from the people at the top, not just Min himself, and people generally lived in fear of their job security being taken away."

Another ex-staff said the amount of work to be dealt with was a factor.

The other ex-staff said: "Being overworked is true. If you're not working 24/7, you're just not good enough."

"They will tell you that to achieve great things, you have to go through some sacrifice. Many people drank the Kool-Aid and believe that they're working for this amazing company doing amazing things."

Tan is now among the 50 richest people in Singapore.

His net worth is estimated to be US$1.6 billion following Razer's public listing.

CEO appeared to have mellowed over the years

All three of the former Razer staff said they worked with Tan directly before, but did not personally encounter any transgressions -- just that two out of the three of them were personally shouted at by the CEO before.

All three of the ex-staff had good things to say about Tan though, despite him being temperamentally volatile.

One of them said: "He's an incredibly sharp and detail-oriented person and a great marketer. He also has a very volatile temper. I was always on tenterhooks whenever we had meetings. Not sure which way his mood would swing during the course of the meeting."

Another said: "He is a very sharp and smart individual who definitely demonstrates the tenacity and drive to be where he is today. He has a very clear idea about his likes and dislikes, and is not afraid of what other people -- including external partners -- might think when he's firm on his stand."

The anecdotal evidence of Tan being less volatile over the years was confirmed by a fourth ex-employee, but who did not want to go on record even anonymously.

But one of the three who doesn't mind going on record, said: "I heard from colleagues who have been with the company a long time that the violent episodes have significantly reduced in recent years. But personally, I still have experienced him raising his voice at me during my time with the company."

People surrounding the CEO

One other interesting point that was brought up by the three former employees was how they characterised the management culture.

The threats of firing staff and the use of abrasive tactics to get the most out of employees allegedly stemmed from not just the CEO.

One of them said: "I have not experienced it personally but did experience similar behaviour from his lieutenants. This suggests that he surrounds himself with people like him, or people around him tend to follow suit."

The same ex-staff recounted an incident where the subordinate took the heat, while the manager didn't.

The ex-staff said: "One day out of the blue, an ex-colleague was dismissed on the spot. I found out eventually it was just a small issue that could’ve been fixed in under an hour, and that the fault should lie in his/ her direct manager who first approved the matter."

"But he/ she was publicly called out and admonished in front of many people, then dismissed. His/ her direct manager continued on in the company with no issues, essentially throwing him/ her under the bus."

Culture of being overworked real

There are concrete examples of the culture of being at the beck and call of superiors at Razer.

One of the ex-staff said the CEO had a habit of sending messages in work group chats very early at 6am or late, after 10pm to past midnight.

He would also not hesitate to lambaste people in group chats, openly humiliating them.

Another ex-staff elaborated: "Shaming employees who don’t seem to work hard enough is a regular affair. We are constantly reminded how privileged we are to work at a company like Razer, and that great sacrifices have to be made."

"But at the end of the day, we’re just selling keyboard and mice! I personally know people who feel burned out or see their personal life suffer as a result of being compelled to give the company all their time. Many people who feel like they're hanging on a thread and that they live in constant fear of being fired the next day."

However, the Razer culture is not so straightforward to diagnose and solve, at least one of the ex-staff felt.

One of the ex-staff said it is a fact that a lot of people are trying to find a job at Razer owing to its popularity, and the culture of laying off people instead of training and retaining them, exacerbated the problem.

An ex-staff also said: "To be fair, I know some great folks in HR who are also trying their best to introduce new ideas and initiatives. But they are often like putting a small plaster on a hemorrhaging wound -- doesn't fix the root cause."

Who did Kotaku speak to for its report?

Kotaku said it spoke to 14 former employees to piece together its report.

Based on what can be gathered from the article, Kotaku appeared to have spoken to employees formerly based in the U.S. offices, where Tan would occasionally show up as he mainly worked out of the Singapore office.

Tan was said to be seconded by senior vice president Mike Dilmagani, who ran Razer’s U.S. offices.

What are some important stats to keep in mind?

Tan's antics, which Kotaku recounted, appeared to have happened some years ago, before the November 2017 public listing of Razer on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

For example, one antic recounted, which served to point out Tan's carrot-and-stick managerial ways, occurred more than 10 years ago.

After the 2008 financial crisis, Tan allegedly asked employees not to take paid time off, and said that those who continued to work would get bigger bonuses.

Other instances appeared to have occurred at least five to seven years back.

In 2012, Tan was said to have shouted in the U.S. office that he would fire people because he was allegedly frustrated with the chatter while he was filming something.

In 2013, one staff was let go for not being able to hit the projected sales target.

In 2014, Tan sent out the f-bomb email which opened the Kotaku article.

Tan's supposed physical and emotional outbursts, as well as his constant threats to fire his staff, were written about by Kotaku in varying detail.

What are some stats to keep in mind?

Razer has 18 offices across the world.

In total, Razer has 1,300 employees.

The Singapore office is its largest, with about 500 people.

Therefore, many have worked for the company that started in 2005, and left on good, bad and all sorts of terms, in its 14-year history.

The people spoken to by media form about 1 percent or less than the total number of employees and ex-employees at Razer.

The Glassdoor reviews for Razer, which are written anonymously, are positive about the company and the CEO.

In his July 2019 speech at the Singapore Management University (SMU) commencement opening ceremony, Tan talked about his approach to work and becoming successful in life.

“It’s not about being popular, it’s not about being liked. It’s about doing the right thing when you have the opportunity to do so,” he said.

“Life is short, don’t let the naysayers distract you because in the bigger scheme of things, they don’t matter at all in the work that you will do,” he added.

Top photo via Getty