Sacked PlusNet boss blasts BT sale 'stitch up'
Blood on the carpet
Exclusive The ousted boss of PlusNet has branded its management liars and new owner BT deceitful in an angry email sent to former colleagues at the ISP.
The extraordinary missive, obtained by The Register, was fired off by Lee Strafford on Sunday evening. He was sacked from PlusNet in March this year after being accused of plotting to launch a rival business following its £67m acquisition by BT.
Strafford denied the allegation at the time and reasserts his innocence in his email, saying: "I have been hurt but not surprised by hearing about the way my reputation has been attacked since my departure." He writes that the principles the firm stood for have been "shat on" and that he has been "stitched up" by other executives.
A sellout to BT had long been the strategy, Strafford writes, and he had expected to leave PlusNet following the deal, but under happier circumstances.
"I did not foresee that the senior management team would once again forsake doing things the right way for their individual weakness, ego, greed and personal ambition - more fool me eh.
"Lets see if they are happy to tell their lies not just in dislosures but in a tribunal hearing and ultimalty in a high court." The claims of Strafford setting up a rival business appeared in the Financial Times via anonymous sources on 7 March. More from the FT here.
Strafford was boss at the Sheffield firm from 2000 until his sacking. Any PlusNet staff known to associate with him are also threatened with dismissal, he claims.
When we contacted Strafford about the email he confirmed he had written it but did not want to add anything further. He said: "I'm in a legal process currently and wouldn't want to do or say anything to undermine that.
"I'm holding the high ground currently and really don't want to lose that."
On Monday, PlusNet said acting CEO Neil Laycock would permanently replace Strafford. The ISP has been attempting to restore its reputation with customers following a series of technical cockups both before and after the BT acquisition.
PlusNet and BT refused to comment on Strafford's look back in anger.
We've published the whole thing on the next page. Financial rubberneckers will be interested by the table at the bottom detailing Strafford's renumeration package throughout his time at PlusNet. ®
From: Lee Strafford
Date: Aug 5, 2007 6:24 PM Subject: Au Revoir!
I had hoped by now that the powers that be at BTC would have come to their senses, and if not had been satisfied that I had no intention of getting in the way of their plans for all of your futures (cause I would never do anything to bring harm to that which I worked so hard to create and people I care so much about), and that therefore I would have had the opportunity to do this properly face to face.
It would appear that between the attitudes of certain people in London and more crucially also in Sheffield that I will not be given the opportunity to say goodbye to you all in the manner that I believe is fitting given the journey we shared any time soon. Acknowledging this and also the very recent arrival of my third son has compelled me to realise that I cannot carry these thoughts around with me any longer without sharing them.
The pride and satisfaction that I feel having had the honour of sharing the journey with you all until its conclusion when BT bought PlusNet is in no way diminished by the frustration that I feel at the disgraceful manner in which I have been treated by BT, the deceitful and completely unnecessary manner (BT were ultimately always going to appoint their own FD in order to get their control / comfort and then protect the value of PlusNet by promoting someone internally to operational lead) in which my loyalty, generosity, patience and personal development have been repaid by members of the senior management team at PlusNet nor the frustration that not being given any comfort about the well being, excitement, challenge and reward opportunity that my you my fellow PlusNetters are now faced with (well I hope you are now faced with).
I have been hurt but not surprised by hearing about the way my reputation has been attacked since my departure and hurt and appalled by the apparent threat of dismissal that has been made against anyone who is seen or heard about interacting with me in any way - fear of threat to you guys is why I have kept my distance from you all these past months.
Potentially not being part of PlusNet was something I had to come to terms with when I reported back to the then PlusNet board that it was indeed in the best interest of the business to recommend the approach by BT.
I took comfort from this in that I knew that if team PlusNet stuck together [sic] and performed well and fought for it opportunity and reward that BT had the financial strength to support and reward you all. More importantly I recognised on the back of the supreme effort to repair our business and getting back to doing things the PlusNet way following the damage wreaked [warning long winded rant coming] by your current leaders mentor and the senior management teams willingness to take the easy path under him for nearly a year while the PlusNet methodology was undermined and our KPI's all deteriorated whilst receiving the remuneration of someone who should have been walking the tough path [end of long winded rant], that most people that were critical to our business had completed their personal development and that there was now a core group that was able to run the business without me if necessary. Clearly I did not foresee that the senior management team would once again forsake doing things the right way for their individual weakness, ego, greed and personal ambition - more fool me eh :-) ah well lets see if they are happy to tell their lies not just in dislosures but in a tribunal hearing and ultimalty in a high court..................
In 2000 I assumed sole control of the future of Team PlusNet and I took that responsibility very seriously, some would say too seriously. I realised that we had a huge opportunity but that if we wanted to take ourselves as far as possible that we need a plan and a methodology that we could all buy into in order to be able to put in the superhuman effort required to achieve what weended up achieving with no outside help be that financial or resources (and what turned out to be quite a large amount of external hindering). The plan was  finish the development of and upgrade of workplace,  establish PNT as the best operator in our space measured by churn rate and profits,  float the business in the London stock exchange in 2004 and  sell the business to BT 2 years later.
The methodology was something we ultimately called Cornerstones which was shared commitment to a way of working based on openness, honesty, transparency and true collaboration, be that interdepartmental or with customers. Faced with limited equity available for PlusNet's employees I recognised that in order to make things sustainable that I had to sacrifice advancing my personal upside for creating increased financial value for my follow PlusNetters (see attached spreadsheet) - I was happy to do this and in the majority of cases I do not regret making this sacrifice to this day as those people that were true PlusNetters throughout earned everything they got and everything I gave up for them.
From 2000 to 2007 I had very little time for my family even if I was at home and my health was ruined. Now don't get me wrong I am not asking for any sympathy, this was my choice and I have been well rewarded financially especially given that 14 years ago I was on the dole!
I feel great pride about the way that you PlusNetters have developed as professionals and as people and I feel privileged to have been able to share the experience with you. I consider you all as dear friends and as my extended family.
You might think that having had everything I ever stood for shat on in such a manner and being stitched up by people who owe me everything that they have today would convince me to turn to the dark side of doing business - but no - I don't believe real value can be created by dishonesty, manipulation and lack of integrity and frankly irrespective of financial success we all just end up being measured on the way we treat others and we all have to face our own conscience.
Whatever I do next it will be based on the qualities that created a successful environment in the PlusNet business i.e. openness, honesty, transparency, and true collaboration.
For the mistakes I made and for the times I was wrong I am sorry. If you are all happy and are excited by your future at PlusNet then my pain this past 5 months and counting can be born with the knowledge that you all have great futures and I have left you all in good hands.
Thanx for the memories and best of luck in everything you all do.
PS - please forward this to the PlusNetters that I do not have private email addresses for (there are quite a few) - I trust that you will know who they are!!!!!!!!
Year Total Basic Bonus Shareholding Share Options 2000 - 2001 £186,908 £100,000 £86,908 5 per cent 0 2001 - 2002 £186,587 £100,000 £86,587 5 per cent 0 2002 - 2003 £284,999 £100,000 £184,999 5 per cent 0 2003 - 2004 £250,005 £100,000 £150,005 5 per cent 0 2004 - 2005 £140,000 £140,000 £0 4.8 per cent 139,500 2005 - 2006 £170,000 £170,000 £0 4.8 per cent 139,500
N.B. In 2004 - 2005 and 2005 - 2006 he records "Other" income of £474,712 and £34,300 respectively.