Simon employees reading cliffhanger

With sale pending, Pearson mum on workers' fate

Three days after the public splash, employees of Simon & Schuster’s soon-to-be amputated educational division were still waiting to hear something — anything — directly from their likely new owner, Pearson P.L.C.

“We have yet to hear ‘boo’ from them,” one corporate exec confided to Daily Variety.

As it was, most of S&S’ 9,000 employees learned this past Monday morning — as they read their morning papers and listened to their radios — that Viacom will likely sell the publisher’s educational, reference, business and professional divisions for $4.6 billion to U.K.-based Pearson.

If the deal goes through, Pearson will keep the educational division for $3.6 billion, and the leveraged buyout firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst Inc. will then acquire the reference, biz and professional operations for $1 billion.

According to an insider, S&S prexy and CEO Jonathan Newcomb got a sketchy call about the deal late Sunday afternoon — at roughly the same time an announcement was sent out to news outlets.

Newcomb and a small group of execs then gathered at the Rockefeller Center offices that evening and put together a release that was sent via e-mail to all S&S employees.

The pending sale had been in the news for months, and, according a source, “there was a good deal of misinformation in many of the media reports,” so the execs wanted to provide S&S employees with the right information — but they didn’t have much to tell.

Pearson, it seems, made no contact with Simon & Schuster honchos to determine internal and external communications plans prior to Sunday’s announcement. “It could have been handled better on Pearson’s end,” said another source. “There are literally thousands of people here wondering what’s going on.”

By contrast, when Bertelsmann AG announced in March its intentions to acquire Random House, intricate plans were set behind the wall of secrecy to ensure that employees on both sides of the deal got direct news of what was happening before the media reported it.

Communications teams worked together to devise a joint three-page release that accompanied memos to employees in the U.S., Germany and every other country where Bertelsmann and Random do biz.

“These were very detailed memos from the heads of the companies involved,” explained Bertelsmann spokesman Stuart Applebaum. “Communicating to our own people was one of our most key, strategic moves.”

As of Wednesday morning, the 1,400 employees of S&S’ reference division, MacMillan Publishing (based in Indiana), and the professional and biz division staffers, in California and New York, had heard from Hicks, Muse. A spokeswoman confirmed that employees had received a memo explaining Hicks’ preliminary plans.

But, nearly all of the 6,000 educational division staffers had heard zilch from Pearson, although incoming edu-division head Peter Jovanovich had spent a couple of hours “shaking some hands” at S&S edu-headquarters in Upper Saddle River, N.J. — the site Pearson would like to keep as its U.S. educational base.S&S Educational Technology Group prexy Martin Kenny said he “expects to hear something soon” from Pearson topper Marjorie Scardino, but admitted this acquisition has been very different thus far from when Viacom bought S&S just a few years ago.

“Synergy was big for them, and from the first moment, there were transition teams working and a lot of communication,” Kenny said.

In their few comments to the press to date, Pearson has not been shy about using words like “cost-cutting” and “layoffs.”

“In my time at Simon & Schuster, we’ve acquired several companies,” says another exec. “It just makes sense to write a letter, tell people a little bit about your company — to let them know they matter.”

S&S staffers were particularly stung when reading a profile of Scardino in Wednesday’s New York Times, and learning that Pearson’s 18,000 employees had received a “Dear Everyone” letter telling them about the deal.

Quips that same exec, “Seems like she forgot about her new employees — or maybe that’s the point.”

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