Workers' clues: Big deposits, missing bosses
LOS ANGELES -- For American Suzuki employees, the first hints that something was awry surfaced on Nov. 2.
The company unexpectedly deposited large sums of money into the bank accounts of many automotive division employees. One employee, who asked not to be named, said Nov. 5 that he didn't know what the cash was for and that the company wasn't talking. A second Suzuki employee, also requesting anonymity, had received the package, too.
One wave of employees received the direct deposits Nov. 2. The rest of Suzuki's automotive division received the payments Nov. 3. Soon, phones at company offices were ringing off the hook from employees wondering if this was finally the end for American Suzuki's automotive operations.
But no answers were given. According to the second Suzuki employee, the company's human resources employees had been sent home early on Nov. 2 and were not at work Nov. 3. And American Suzuki's top leaders -- President Seiichi Maruyama and Chairman Takashi Iwatsuki -- were nowhere to be found.
It wasn't until the afternoon of Nov. 5 that employees knew their fates.
"At 3 p.m. Pacific on Monday, we were brought into an empty conference room -- no HR, no Japanese management. There wasn't even a table. We just all stood in a circle," said the second employee, who was present at the meeting.
Employees were told they were being terminated. The direct deposits were severance payments. Employees were handed their severance papers and were asked to turn in their computers and leave the building.
Even though the company's struggles were well known, the second Suzuki employee said, nobody expected the end to happen the way it did.
The company never disclosed plans to wind down the automotive business.
"They never indicated anything," the second employee said. "You couldn't get Seiichi [Maruyama] to confirm that it was sunny out."
Suzuki declined to comment on the closing. It terminated about 70 automotive division employees Nov. 5, just hours before American Suzuki filed for bankruptcy protection to close its automotive sales business while keeping its motorcycle and marine engine divisions.
Suzuki is the latest foreign automaker to call it quits in the United States.
But the second employee said that Suzuki's handling of the situation made for a bitter ending: "It couldn't have been handled any worse."
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