Singapore agency threatens legal action against former staff over client poaching claim

The Ate GroupA Singapore agency claims it is threatening to take legal action against former staff for allegedly poaching clients.

Lifestyle specialist integrated communications agency Ate Group claims that three former senior staff solicited business while they were still employees of Ate before forming a breakaway start-up.

The agency has said it will take legal proceedings against the former employees, although it has not publically named them or their new company.

Ate Group claims that its employment contracts stipulate that employees cannot approach the agency’s clients until 12 months after they have left, Mumbrella has been informed.

In a statement released to Mumbrella, Ate said:

We were all shocked and saddened by the fact that trusted and senior staff had used Ate’s time, clients, resources and reputation in the industry to attempt to sign and divert business to their own venture while still very much employees of the company.

However we also believe in doing things the right way, and as far as we’re concerned, our priority is to continue to give outstanding service to our clients and to grow our reputation as one of Singapore’s best lifestyle communications agencies. We are focused on moving forward from this point and any legal action we take is a separate matter which will not affect anything we do in our day to day business.

Ate’s clients have included Jamie’s Italian Singapore, Singapore Tourism Board, MasterCard, DBS Bank, National Heritage Board, Unilever Food Solutions, Louis Vuitton and The Peninsula Hotels Group.

Ate was founded in 2006 by Aun Koh, son of celebrated Singaporean lawyer and diplomat Professor Tommy Koh, and his wife. Koh no longer has an operational role at Ate, but remains a partner in the business.

In a long post on his Facebook page, Koh wrote:

Aun Koh

Aun Koh

I have been completely disgusted by the unprofessional and possibly criminal actions by three former employees (coincidentally, all foreigners).

From what I have been told, these three, over a period of time and while actually under our employment, allegedly worked to divert business away from us and to their new agency.

Allegedly, they lied to my business partners, misrepresented our agency, and even lied to clients.

Allegedly, they were, while still drawing salaries from us, selling their own services and poaching Ate’s clients.

Now, I have no problem with competition. And as I said, I’m happy to see my ex-colleagues succeed. But there are certain moral codes that people and professionals should adhere to.

These three, in my personal opinion, have demonstrated a complete lack of integrity and professionalism. To me, they have lost any kind of credibility not only as professionals but human beings.

I am actually shocked that some of our clients signed up with their new firm and am simply hoping they were misled, as opposed to actually supporting this behaviour.

It actually saddens me that in order to seek justice my partners are pursuing both legal and criminal action against these people. I don’t understand why three supposedly intelligent people couldn’t wait until they no longer worked for us to pursue new business.

Why do something so obviously wrong? Why not part ways on good terms and compete then? There’s surely enough business out there for many, many communications companies?

What also saddens me about this incident is that I was always a huge supported of foreign (white collar) labor here in Singapore. While I know these people are surely not indicative of a huge population of expatriates, it does make me rethink whether or not these new arrivals are really grateful for the opportunities they are being given here or are they all just so self-centered that they don’t care about things like professionalism, integrity or even right and wrong.

I won’t be naming these people here. I’m not that stupid or petty. But friends from various sectors can guess who they are. And I hope these friends won’t give these people or their business the time of day.

The staff of the new agency did not respond to Mumbrella’s invitation to comment.


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