UPDATE: A new article updating this story is available here: "Anger, Confusion in Wake of USMotivation's Sudden Shutdown."
When the 80 employees of the 55-year-old Atlanta-based incentive and engagement firm USMotivation came to work on Friday, Feb. 3, none of them knew it would be their last day with the company.
"Eighty employees were walked out of the company on Friday," said Tina Weede, CRP, until Jan. 3 president of USMotivation. "They were paid through Friday, the owners gave them no severance. Over 35 percent of our associate base had been there for more than 10 years. I've been here 26 years. It was devastating to our associates, and I am going to make it my mission in life to try to help them."
To do that, Weede and other senior leaders of USMotivation announced a new incentive firm over the weekend, Innovative People Strategies (IPS), located on the second floor of the same building as the company that had ceased to exist. Weede says she turned in a resignation on Dec. 9, but her employment was not formally terminated until Jan. 3, a month before USMotivation closed.
"Our goal with the new company is to lead with our research tool, Clarity Research, which we're very proud of developing, to work with clients," Weede said. "We'll have all the same suite of tools we've always had: incentive travel, meetings and events, concierge travel, awards platforms, points platforms, engagement, wellness and service anniversaries types of programs. We'll be a full service agency, but more with a focus on utilizing research and utilizing research to drive the process, instead of that being the afterthought."
To that end, both Bill Karowski, USMotivation's vice president of sales and marketing, and neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Curtis, Ph.D, who developed the Clarity survey, will both work with IPS. Karowski is senior vice president of IPS, Weede added.
Research and analysis is a topic Weede is passionate about, serving as vice president of research and education at the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) as well as immediate past president of Recognition Professionals International (RPI). That passion was a key reason Incentive named Weede one of the 25 Most Influential People in the Incentive Industry in our November/December 2016 issue.
"This is what we've done our whole lives," Weede said. "We know how to operate the best incentive programs in the industry. With regard to awards and points type of platforms, we're working with the best technology companies in the industry, to provide the best solutions." Among these are Cvent on the incentive travel, meetings and events side and WorkStride for the back end of points and awards programs, she said. Weede added that USMotivation moved over to WorkStride more than a year ago, so it should be a seamless transition.
"We made the decision over a year ago to with the best technology in the industry to be able to provide that best solution, and that's what we'll continue to do," she added. "We can conduct business today based on those relationships."
She said the same thing about clients, who were equally surprised by USMotivation's closure. "Our relationships are long and deep, and I hope to be able to be able to start bringing new clients onboard this week, and also bringing our associates back starting this week," Weede said.
USMotivation was founded in 1962, and was one of the larger mid-sized incentive houses, with customers spanning the Fortune 50 to Fortune 1000 in industries including automotive, healthcare and telecommunications, she noted. It was owned by General Yellow Pages Consultants, which also owned a sister company, Peoria, IL-based yellow pages advertising and directional marketing firm Marquette Group, which Weede said was sold in January 2016. Incentive has not yet been able to confirm the reasons behind the closure of USMotivation.
Other USMotivation alumni who have made the move to IPS include Jennifer Fowler, the new COO; Mark Prine, who will be the new vice president of sales focusing on major accounts; Barbara Nindos, the vice president of onsite operations and sales support; and Brandi Decovsky as human resources manager.
As a woman-owned company, the new firm -- which Weede says may go by the acronym PS rather than IPS in its branding -- will be a "huge positive" for clients who have diversity as a top-tier priority.
"I've been doing this a long time and I love what I do, and what charges me every day are people," Weede said. "It's unfortunate that we had such a big hiccup with , but the same people will rebuild what was good at USM and make it better. In this business it's about relationships, its about what you've done for your clients, its about what you've done for your associates, and this is a time for all of us to rally, and that's what we'll do. If it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger."
EDITOR'S NOTE: While Incentive welcomes and encourages reader comments, the first comment on this article was made under the name of an ex-USMotivation employee who contacted Incentive to say she did not write it. We have therefore removed the comment, which had the effect of removing all replies to that comment. We encourage all users to comment under their real name and to do so with respect for everyone.
Updated 2:00 pm on Feb. 5 to reflect date Tina Weede left USMotivation.
Updated 11:05 am on Feb. 7 due to reader comment concerns.