When I originally wrote this post, I was hopeful that it would have a good ending and that I could possibly offer guidance to someone else. Now, I can only share the horrible experience and how I eventually let it go. Hopefully, this post helps someone who is or has experienced retrenchment.
In October 2015 I signed a contract as a Permanent Graphic Design Contractor. I worked for a company called BlackLion Group (owned by Roman Lutz (Swiss) and Torsten Lueddecke (German)). I was part of the team who launched their start-up tourism/entertainment company. It was the best job I ever had. I was so happy. I finally found a job where I could work from home and earn a good salary. There were 5 additional staff members when I started, which soon grew with +- another 5 (excluding freelance copy-writing, research, and software developers). As the company grew so did my excitement.
For the first time in my life I was finally able to:
- make it through a month
- have fun on weekends
- move from factory shops to shopping centers
- spoil loved ones
- get a trustworthy car
- feel safe financially
Life was good, but don’t get me wrong, I worked just as hard – work hard, party harder. I worked like a boss and I loved it.
Most nights, I worked long and late hours. 8 am – 2/3am the next morning became very normal. I even found myself working a few hours on weekends.
By January 2016 my life was hitting an amazing peak. There was a brief moment I wondered if this is too good to be true.
But I ignored it.
DO. NOT. IGNORE. YOUR. GUT.
At the end of February, I started feeling a little insecure about my job and the company. I’m not entirely sure why, but I just did. Eventually, the workflow became a little less, colleagues became quieter and the overall morale was completely flipped upside down. Something wasn’t clicking…
5 March 2016 I bought a new car. Life was perfect. I was on such a high of a new car that I pushed my other worries aside. Then on the 17th of March 2016, everything changed. That day I had received no communication from the office. There was only one email from Roman Lutz to set a meeting for the following day. Later that afternoon, all my worries and suspicions were finally confirmed when I received a Skype message from a colleague…
not sure if you’ve heard, but we no longer have jobs – BlackLion Group has gone bust
There is absolutely no way of explaining how terrified I was. I had never in my life experienced that amount of sheer panic.
What am I going to do? Payday isn’t far… MONTH END ISN’T FAR!
After surviving a very sleepless night, I drove through to the office early the next morning. I walked into the office to find two colleagues sitting in the dark. The atmosphere was heartbreaking. There was really nothing we could say to one another and tried to talk about things in general, plans and/or solutions to the situation.
When I met with Roman Lutz, it wasn’t necessary to state the obvious. There was really nothing much we could say to each other. He explained how sorry he was for the situation and hoped that I had freelance work to fall back onto. I didn’t.
I had turned clients away because I had no spare time. All my time was dedicated to BlackLion Group.
Honestly, it looked as though he felt bad. Well, I thought he did. He told me that the investors who had been funding the company left. Why? Because of illegitimate figures and fake potential clients. The investors lost trust – and rightfully so.
However, they were willing to invest again on the condition that the company generates sales from advertising space available on the BlackLion Group website AND a redesign or new image/face for the website.
Additionally, Roman Lutz asked if my fiancé and I would be willing to stay and help with the re-branding. He reassured us that no matter what, even if investors still back out, he would be able to pay out, the end of the following month. We agreed to help.
I continued working for BlackLion Group because Roman Lutz was a reputable businessman. We worked well together. I put full trust in him. He often told me I was the nicest Graphic Designer he had ever worked with. Who wouldn’t be happy after hearing that!?
I continued working through April 2016 only to be told by Roman Lutz, that BlackLion Group was unable to pay me and my fiancé (who helping the company after hours), BUT that:
first of all we will pay the outstanding amounts asap of course. then my offer/idea would be: please search immediately another job or freelance work. let me know each month how much income you generate. for e.g.- if you make only Y the first month i will give you the difference between X and Y etc. i can do this for the next 3 months if that would help. if BlackLion Group solved LONG TERM all issues and financial issues and you still would like to come back you would be more then welcome. if not i would understand of course. of course i am available for both of you at any time incl. holidays and weekends etc. for skype or meeting
He wouldn’t answer my calls and was never available for face to face meetings – not even accept a Skype meeting. All he’d reply with was:
hi claudia, unfortunately we still dont have a date. we are still working on it. i am sorry.i hope you will find soon a new job or work.
The next three months went by and I received absolutely nothing. Nothing. Nada. There are thousands of emails between myself, fiancé and Roman Lutz – who later got Torsten Lueddecke involved in our correspondence.
Torsten Lueddecke (co-owner of BlackLion Group) argued that he was not responsible for anything owed and that BlackLion Group was only going to pay once funds became available again. He also told us that he would not be taking any money from any one of his other 3 companies because he had invested enough already. He swore at me and threatened to make my life hell if I took my story to Social Media.
Roman Lutz ended up telling us that the clients from his other businesses never paid and therefore he couldn’t pay us. During that tough time of them letting us go, Roman Lutz moved and is currently in Malta Spain to start up another business and Torsten Lueddecke did a “business trip” to Singapore and China where he happily posted a selfie on Facebook posing with a beer adding:
When a beer takes a selfie and I photobomb … I thought it was a celebrity beer as it costs the equivalent of three bottles of wine back home … Welcome to Singapore!”
This was the hardest part and something I still struggle accepting.
How can you afford luxuries at that price when you know there are 22 other people struggling to put food on the table because of your negligence and irresponsibility?!
I approached the Department of Labour, Labour Law, CCMA etc. only to be told that they were unable to help due to BlackLion Group physically closing up. They could never physically locate them – despite the fact that Torsten Lueddecke has three other businesses with premises in Cape Town. Full-time staff were unable to claim their UIF because BlackLion Group had not paid over the deducted UIF from salaries to the UIF themselves. BlackLion Group was basically a ghost.
According to the Department of Labour, BlackLion Group was responsible for my salary and I quote:
if the work was done, it needs to be paid for
By law, they are responsible (Torsten Lueddecke argues otherwise.) but unfortunately, companies and people like this manage to dodge bullets for as long as they can. The entire situation was a complete mess but I continued fighting for what was rightfully mine. I sent emails begging, pleading and even compromising to half of what was owed.
The company never followed any legal liquidation procedures and still, to this day, keep their business name online (even though Roman Lutz and Torsten Lueddecke claim the company has no funds). Both Roman Lutz and Torsten Lueddecke still advertise themselves as owners of BlackLion Group on Social Media.
Torsten Lueddecke claimed to never have been responsible for anyone. He even claimed that as a PTY Limited company they do not have to owe a cent because it’s the company that owes us, not him.
um… how else did your company get there?! YOU OBVIOUSLY. YOU ARE THE COMPANY. YOU ARE THE FACE. YOU ARE THE BRAND. YOU ARE THE OWNER.
Here are just a few of the many Torsten Lueddecke comments:
I repeat: I owe you NOTHING in my personally capacity. So how much money a beer costs, nor anything else I spend in my personal capacity will be of any interest to a judge. If you still don’t get, that it is a LIMITED Company (limited meaning: the LIABILITY is limited by the share capital, this is the ESSENCE of a limited company!) that owes you money and NOT me as a person … then I can not help it and may be a judge needs to explain that to you.
Again, The Department of Labour and many other companies I have contacted all tell me the same thing: THE SOUTH AFRICAN LAW says: IF THE WORK WAS DONE IT NEEDS TO BE PAID FOR.
If you have a valid case against me, the place to take it is the court. I wonder what your reasons might be to choose to take it to “Social Media” instead. And I leave it up to your judgement whether this action is likely to increase or decrease the chances of a settlement …
I remind you that it is the company that owes you money and not me in my personal capacity. To kill the cow that owes you milk is plainly stupid. Your money would be lost indefinitely. In addition you will find yourself in front of the court. But as the culprit and not the plaintiff.
To give you an idea of how much we owed, take away three-months of your salary. Gone.
I’ve been threatened that should I go to social media, I would be taken to court by Roman Lutz and Torsten Lueddecke themselves. Don’t worry though, I have been told by both a lawyer and private investigator (on separate occasions) that I’m not doing any wrong by telling my story.
So how did I let this all go?
It’s simple. I had no choice.
I continued trying for two years. Still to this day, not one of the Blacklion Group staff received what was owed (not to my knowledge anyway). The time, money and emotion this battle takes out of you, isn’t worth it. Don’t get me wrong, if money wasn’t an issue, the story would end differently. Realistically, it wasn’t worth the stress, anxiety and heartache. The healing process has taken a lot of time, but in the end of the day, its made me stronger, wiser and the better person.