The former chief financial officer of failed London tech unicorn Powa Technologies claims “management were the worst I’ve seen in over 30 years” and claims that the CEO “parked his Rolls Royce in the disabled spot.”
Steven Prowse, who was acting CFO of Powa for three months in 2014, writes in a blog post published on LinkedIn last Friday that accounting practices at Powa were lax when he arrived, with corporate payments requiring only one signature. He also accuses executives of being “breathtakingly immature and bipolar.”
Deloitte, the administrators that now speak and act for Powa, declined to comment. CEO and founder Dan Wagner could not be reached for comment.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing or rule-breaking at Powa. But Prowse’s blog post on LinkedIn paints a chaotic picture of upper management at the company, which collapsed into administration last month. Powa was once valued at $2.7 billion and raised at least $220 million from 2013 onwards.
Prowse writes: “The staff were excellent, but the management were the worst I’ve seen in over 30 years. Breathtakingly immature and bipolar.”
Prowse declined to speak to Business Insider when we contacted him. But a former Powa employee BI spoke to confirmed that Prowse worked at the company while they were there.
Prowse’s opinion should be taken with a pinch of salt, given that he is an ex-employee. We’ve also been unable to contact key executives whom Prowse criticises to get their side of the story. But much of Prowse’s criticism has been backed up by former Powa employees, suggesting that the attacks are not completely unfounded.
In his blog post, titled “No surprise at Powa,” Prowse singles out Powa CEO and founder Dan Wagner for particular criticism: “Dan Wagner is just a salesman obsessed with image — mainly his own.”
Dan Wagner did not respond to multiple emails, calls, and texts from Business Insider asking for comment over several days.
Prowse also alleges that Wagner “parked his Rolls Royce in the disabled spot. It has a sticker but it’s for one of his parents who live in the Far East. Says it all.”
Two former Powa employees confirmed to Business Insider that they had seen Wagner park in disabled spots while another early employee of the company told BI: “Dan parked anywhere and everywhere. The fines piled up, he didn’t care.”
But multiple former employees told BI that Wagner drove a Bentley, not a Rolls-Royce. It’s not clear whether Prowse misidentified the car or mistook another vehicle for Wagner’s. Some Rolls and Bentley models look similar.
Prowse also criticises Powa’s deputy chairman Anthony Sharp, comparing Sharp and Wagner to 1980s pop duo Wham! Prowse writes:
The #2, Ant Sharp, was Dan’s best friend at school and really was the Andrew Ridgely to Dan’s George Michael – his only skill. Most of the complaints about ‘management’ on Glassdoor are about him rather than Dan.
Bad management is a common theme in reviews of the company on anonymous feedback website Glassdoor. One reviewer wrote: “They do not appreciate your work, management use different excuses to destroy your years of work, re-design and ask you to rebuild it so that they can take over the control.”
BI could not get in contact with Sharp but asked Powa’s former PR representatives, Flame PR, to ask him for comment. Flame PR said they passed on the email and Sharp would contact BI directly with any comment. We’ve yet to hear back but will update if we do.
Half a dozen former Powa employees Business Insider has spoken to echoed Prowse’s comments independently, saying management at the company was chaotic.
Prowse also claims in his blog post that internal oversight of accounting and payments was lax. The company let payments be made with just one signatory instead of two or more. Most companies require multiple signatures for payments to ensure that staff cannot make payments to themselves. Prowse writes:
It took three(!) emails, to them to convince them to have dual signatories above a certain amount. The 3rd email was more than 2 pages long and was simplified to a Janet-and-John level before they saw the light.
Once again, there’s no suggestion of any rule breaking but it’s far from best practice. Prowse continues: “It was all about image and self-aggrandisement, hoping to relive the short glory days of MAID.”
MAID stands for Market Analysis Information Database, the online information company Wagner founded in 1984 at the age of just 21. The company, later renamed Dialog, floated in 1994 and partnered with Microsoft a year later.
But shares crashed 95% during the dot-com bubble burst and led the Financial Times to dub it “dial-a-dog.” The company was sold to Thomson Reuters in 2000 for $500 million.
Again, Wagner and Sharp could not be reached for comment and administrators Deloitte declined to comment.
Powa Technologies was once valued at $2.7 billion and raised at least $220 million from 2013 onwards, but it collapsed into administration late last month after running out of cash. Accounts show the company had just $250,000 in the bank at the start of February with debts of $16.4 million.
BI reported that developers on a key project were fired on New Year’s Eve and redundancies were commonplace at Powa. A former employee also complained that projects were “headwinded” by repeated interventions from senior management requesting changes.
Wagner told Powa staff that the company was “basically pre-revenue” shortly before it collapsed, according to a video seen by the Financial Times.
Business Insider reported last week that most of the 1,200 clients claimed to have signed up to its flagship payment app PowaTag had actually just expressed preliminary interest in the technology. Adidas, touted as a key partner by Wagner in the press, directly denied involvement with Powa when contacted by BI.
Two of Powa’s three main divisions were sold by administrator Deloitte this week, preserving 69 jobs. 74 people have already been made redundant and over 160 jobs remain in doubt.
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