Slovpro language schools are in trouble, and the two camps involved are pinning the blame on each other. With branches in Bratislava, Košice, Banská Bystrica, and Trnava, about the only thing that former Slovpro regional managers can agree upon with Slovpro founder and director Andrew Miller is that the school's recent financial results have been abysmal.
Besides that point, however, the two sides can find no common ground as an ugly battle of barbed words and legal threats has resulted in Miller "cleaning house" while his former employees demand immediate payment of late salaries.
"Everyone is jumping ship on him [Miller]," said Gabriel Kindernay, the former Banská Bystrica regional manager.
"These people are trying to hurt Slovpro's name because they're pissed off that I fired them," countered Miller. "I made the mistake of trusting the regional managers. I went to the Philippines and left them in charge, and I returned to a big mess."
Miller's trip to the Philippines from March till the end of May ultimately resulted in Kindernay assuming ownership of the Banská Bystrica branch. According to Kindernay, Miller was unable to pay 617,000 Slovak crowns ($14,000 at the time) for salaries, rent and other expenses at the regional school after the branch opened on February 1. At the end of March, he said, he lent the money to Slovpro to cover the expenses and appease anxious employees.
"Everyone was getting nervous," Kindernay said. "We were scrambling to make payments and we were falling behind. Miller's excuse was that the accountant had said there would be enough money."
The loaned sum increased, Kindernay said, when Miller called him and asked for an additional $4,000 to cover his hotel expenses in Asia. The sum increased yet again when Kindernay lent an additional 300,000 crowns to Miller in June after a discussion during which he said Miller assured him that his brother would soon invest $100,000 into the company.
"And stupid me," said Kindernay, "I lent it to him."
Presenting bank statements and an IOU for 1.5 million crowns signed by Miller, Kindernay said that while he wanted all his money back, he feared he would be "86th in line" among others who are waiting for money from the Slovpro director. Therefore, he took over operations of the Banská Bystrica office - including paying rent, salaries, and taxes - and renamed the company Global Languages Institute.
Miller refused to comment on the IOU, saying that it was a personal matter between the two men. But he called the take-over a "mutiny" and added: "He did something, and we are now in the process of taking the steps necessary to challenge it legally."
Other complaints were also raised against Miller. Trnava Branch director Martin Vandernet said he submitted his resignation on August 7 (he said he was still employed with the company when he spoke to The Slovak Spectator on August 14, but Miller said he had already been fired), complaining of paychecks that were routinely late and alleging that Miller had told him to change the contracts of teachers, thereby lowering their wages.
"The last few months we have consistently been paid late," he said. "Pay day for May was supposed to be June 22, and on that date I was paid just a third of my salary, the rest came a month later on July 21. We doubt we'll get paid for July."
Furthermore, Vandernet said, Miller had misrepresented teachers' contracts. Teachers were promised fixed salaries [between 17,000 and 30,000 Slovak crowns per month] for teaching 100 hours per month. The problem arose, he said, when the 100 hours were not available due to a lack of clients.
"Miller attempted to change the contracts without their consent," Vandernet said. "These people signed contracts based on a fixed salary. It was Andrew's problem getting them the hours."
Miller responded that he had not breached the teachers' contracts. "The salaries were based on the agreement that the teachers would teach 100 hours," he said. "Quite a few had enough hours, but some refused to teach enough and some lost students through irresponsibility. So I said, that's it, I won't be Santa Claus anymore."
The two sides also were unable to agree on the future of Slovpro. While the regional managers said that the non-Bratislava branches either had already folded or soon would, Miller said that the future of Slovpro was solid.
One regional director, who wished to remain anonymous pending a slander suit he was planning on filing against Miller, said: "He says he has these big contracts with [large international firms], but he doesn't."
Miller, for his part, said that he was disturbed by the media attention around the struggles of his school and added that he just wanted to move on and rebuild. "We had some problems, yes... but the future looks good," he said.
"Look, we're all people and we all make mistakes," he added."And everyone of us deserves a little tolerance and understanding."
21. Aug 2000 at 0:00 | Chris Togneri