Razer CEO Tan Min-Liang called a 'dictator' by ex-employees

The mark of a true gamer is a little rage.

Jason Fan | December 06, 2019, 03:24 PM

[Updated on Friday, Dec. 6 at 6:30pm: Razer responded with a statement.]

Razer is one of the largest brands in gaming today, and CEO Tan Min-Liang is widely attributed for being the brains behind the homegrown company.

However, according to a Kotaku exposé report, former Razer employees have spoken out and described Tan as a dictatorial boss who created a climate of fear within the company, and who always wanted to be in control.

The report also said that the first Razer press release quoted Robert Krakoff, who "had put out the first-ever Razer gaming mouse, the Boomslang".

Tan also reportedly threw things to express his dissatisfaction, and threatened to punch his staff.

"This is not a democracy. This is a dictatorship."

According to Razer's website, Tan is a co-founder of the company, and served as both the CEO and Creative Director since September 2006.

He was also designated as an executive director and appointed as the chairman of the company's board in June 2017.

Kotaku added to Tan's many hats, saying that he was also the chief of product and director of marketing, as well as the "chief gamer" during his tenure at Razer, in either official or unofficial capacities.

His many roles within Razer meant that Tan had a tendency to micro-manage operations, with a former employee claiming that "nothing was done without him".

The employee said that Tan's management style became ruling by fear, and that he was "without question a dictator".

According to the employee, one of Tan's quotes was: "This is not a democracy. This is a dictatorship."

In response to this, Tan said: "I have referenced decision-making in a company as a 'benevolent dictatorship' in the sense that someone needs to hear feedback from various sources and make a business decision and be held accountable for that decision."

Tan allegedly fired his marketing director after spotlight snub

In 2014, Tan was "officially pissed off", after his company did not make the business website Fast Company's 2014 list of "Most Innovative Companies".

According to an email exchange obtained by Kotaku, Tan asked his marketing employees: "Are you guys f***ing off?"

His then-director of marketing, Greg Agius, replied to Tan, telling the Razer CEO that the marketing team was focusing on winning the company awards at the Las Vegas tech expo CES.

He also assured Tan that they were dedicated to getting him on Fast Company, and suggested that doing an in-person media tour would have better allowed Tan to make the list.

Tan's response was swift and furious.

He emailed back: "Wait. You're telling me because I didn't go for the tour you can't do your f***ing job?"

According to three former employees, Agius was fired mere hours later.

Company culture demanded staff to work long hours of overtime

Employees interviewed by Kotaku revealed that they had to work extremely long hours of overtime, with some estimating that they worked anywhere between 60 to 100 hours a week to prepare for trade shows.

In response to this, a Razer representative told Kotaku that these overtime stints were common in a "tech start-up", but are typically short windows that do not last more than a few days.

According to the Razer website, the gaming giant has 18 offices worldwide, is recognised as the leading brand for gamers in the USA, Europe and China, and is also listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

A pair of former employees told Kotaku that after their son was admitted to the hospital after a car crash, their boss told them to get back to work.

Another employee said that he was asked to work on his honeymoon.

A Razer representative responded to these allegations, claiming that they were a "family-friendly employer", and have adopted policies aimed at supporting employees with families.

It is unclear what these specific policies were.

Tan was frequently verbally abusive

Tan was allegedly an extremely volatile person, with several employees referring to him as "verbally abusive".

After Razer's community team messed up a social media post, Tan was reportedly furious, and he took it out on two employees during a visit to Razer's office in California.

Tan allegedly yelled at them with his office door open, with the entire office listening in, according to a former employee.

"Every other word out of his mouth was 'f*ck'. He went on for quite a long time at the top of his lungs," he said.

"I'll send my killer robots after you"

Tan's gamer rage did not stop there.

Another former employee claimed that Tan threatened to punch an employee in the face, while a second former employee, who was being disciplined by Tan, claimed that Tan threw an object past him in anger, although the object did not hit him.

In response to these incidents, Tan acknowledged that he was "very intense" when it comes to quality of work, and that throwing objects was his way of expressing his dissatisfaction.

"If a product does not meet does not meet my standards, I may express dissatisfaction, including by raising my voice," said Tan.

"There have also been occasions where a prototype has not met my standards, and in a design meeting, I have thrown the prototype to the wall or on the floor."

However, Tan denied throwing objects at employees, or threatening violence towards them.

He admitted he have made statements such as "don't make me punch you in the face", or "I'll send my killer robots after you", but claimed that those statements were made in jest.

Tan also claimed that he had not heard of any employees complaining about him to Human Resources, although it is unclear how many employees would dare to complain about their own CEO while employed.

Tan would dangle an eventual payday as an incentive

If Tan was allegedly such an abusive CEO, why did employees stay?

According to Kotaku, it was largely because Tan often talked about taking the company public, which meant big paydays for staff who owned shares in the company.

This was allegedly why employees accepted the supposedly horrible working conditions, which included unpaid overtime hours and below-market wages.

When Razer finally went public in November 2017, The Straits Times reported that Razer would be valued at close to US$4.4 billion (S$5.99 billion).

Tan's net wealth soared to US$1.6 billion (S$2.18 billion) as a result, according to Forbes.

While some employees did get the big paydays they were hoping for, at upwards of US$200,000 (S$272,000), others were underwhelmed, with one employee saying that his compensation was akin to "used car money".

When asked about the disparity between what he received from the IPO, versus his employees, he defended it by saying that "employee stock grants are made on a merits-basis".

He also said that while some employees may feel shortchanged, many employees were very pleased with their stock grants, and had not expected to receive as many shares as they actually did.

Tan even claimed that many of them reached out to thank him for it.

Can become "way worse than Gordon Ramsay" when it comes to work

In an Instagram post on Nov. 28, Tan admitted that when it comes to work, he could get pretty intense.

View this post on Instagram

Just had dinner at Gordon Ramsay's Bread Kitchen. Am reminded that I'm told I'm generally chill but when it comes to work, design and attention to detail, I can pretty much become way worse than Gordon Ramsay. I believe there's greatness in everyone, but it's important to demand the best and most from everyone (including myself). And sometimes I can get a little intense/extreme on this front and rage if I feel things could be done better. #ShotonRazerPhone2

A post shared by Min-Liang Tan (@minliangtan) on

He even compared himself to Gordon Ramsay, another public figure who is known to display anger issues on his staff.

"Am reminded that I'm told I'm generally chill but when it comes to work, design and attention to detail, I can pretty much become way worse than Gordon Ramsay," Tan wrote.

"And sometimes I can get a little intense/extreme on this front and rage if I feel things could be done better."

Mothership has reached out to Razer for a statement.

On Dec. 6, at around 6:30pm, Razer responded with a statement.

"Allegations in the article mirror claims in a current lawsuit brought by one disgruntled ex-employee whose employment was terminated for misconduct, including dishonesty. Razer cannot comment on matters of ongoing litigation."

Top image from Razer's Facebook page.


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