It was always difficult to know what was going on in the IRIS hierarchy. For an enterprise that prided itself on being in the vanguard of the information business, the internal flow of information was turgid. One senior analyst, himself a State Department veteran, was astonished.
"I can understand these guys not knowing much about running a business or marketing a product because they've never done that before," he said. "But what beats me is that they can't run a bureaucracy."
I found it helped to keep an eye on titles in interoffice memos. Barry Kelly's title changed from "director of government programs" to "chief operating officer" to "chief executive officer" to "president." Paul Boeker and Lee Feldman moved up into "senior vice-president" slots. And then one memorable day, an "office of the president" was born. (It was tempting to look out of the window to see if we were still on the Virginia side of the Potomac).
On Jan. 28, the day of the collapse, when the company liquor, some of the artwork, a computer terminal and even a desk "disappeared," Judith Trunzo, one of the analysts, made an impromptu collection for a receptionist who was divorced and had three children to look after. Trunzo came into my office and, as she was explaining what she was doing, suddenly broke down. Later, I discovered why. She had just come from one of the executives who was earning $75,000 a year. He had flatly refused to give a penny. "We don't know the relative merits of her case," she said he told her.
The end, although expected by many, was still a traumatic affair. The money had simply run out and we were told there was nothing to cover back pay, expenses, relocation costs, medical plans, debts to correspondents etc., let alone severance pay. This was bad enough but the management then sent two letters to all employes perfunctorily terminating their services and hurrying on to demand the return of "missing corporate assets." The good news, the letter confirmed, was that "other employes with a high moral fiber have come forward to report on others they have seen taking corporate property."
All of us had, of course, enjoyed the fruits of the venture--the fat salaries, the fancy offices, the special flavor and the excitement associated with a new enterprise. But many had given up good jobs, sold or rented homes, even come from abroad to join IRIS, comforted by the thought that if all went wrong they had copper-bottomed contracts in their pockets assuring them of generous severance pay and relocation allowances.
But once the investors filed for bankruptcy, these assurances turned out not to be binding.
Most of the analysts focused their disillusionment on Boeker, the man who had encouraged many of them to join IRIS while neglecting to tell them what he had told Kelly and the investors--that he had his own safety net, with a two-year leave of absence from the State Department. Some analysts would never have come to IRIS if they had not received contracts with an unequivocal severance clause. Others were not told that such contracts existed.
At the end, some of the managers, shocked at the seemingly coldblooded way in which the investors had walked away, urged them to pay off the employes. The investors listened but failed to respond. In the aftermath, however, the managers walked away from the people they had hired.
IRIS collapsed on Thursday, Jan. 28. Boeker was back in the State Department, with an office and a secretary, the following week, even before IRIS had technically filed for bankruptcy.
Feldman flew off to California--he later returned and attended one ex-employes' meeting--and Kelly and Nugent stayed on with the rump of the company for another six weeks, drawing reduced but still large salaries on the grounds that it was important to keep "a good management team together" during the bankruptcy "reorganization"
It was left to the members of the staff themselves to put pressure on the investors to help those in greatest need. This took a lot of time and effort but, with the help of Edward Heath and Robert S. McNamara behind the scenes, some progress was made. The investors sent modest sums to those who had left Europe to work for IRIS and settled some out-of-pocket expenses. They also promised to pay off the $120,000 owing to IRIS' correspondents and consultants.
The top management took no part in this. It was as if they, and we, no longer existed.
Searching for an explanation, perhaps the best came from another ex-IRIS employe.
"It's the State Department mentality," he explained, having served there himself but also having been a Marine captain. "There's no downward loyalty as there is in the military. Everyone is looking upward."