Organizational Culture at Vice Media

Organizational Culture at Vice Media

Vice Media—a multimedia conglomerate—built its organizational culture around some features that were attractive to its young employees. It was a media company on the edge of digital content. It provided more opportunities to people in their 20s than other companies in the same industry. Vice’s co-founder, Shane Smith, had the appealing pitch to employees to “come with me and change the world.” The company kept growing. It started as a free magazine but then became the tenth-highest-valued private company in the US. At its height, it had 3,000 employees, a cable network, many websites, two HBO shows, an ad agency, a film studio, a record label, and even a bar in London. And it was full of energetic, young employees.

There was another side to the culture at Vice. Sometimes the company was less than honest with clients as it grew. When a meeting with Intel was on the calendar, Smith convinced the architecture company next store to move out to make the office look larger. The day that Intel visited, Vice employees were asked to bring friends to work with laptops. Everyone was told to act more professional than usual. The company grew so fast that it led to a chaotic atmosphere that sometimes crossed the line. Acknowledging this at some level, they asked employees to sign a “Non-Traditional Workplace Agreement.” The agreement said employees wouldn’t find the workplace environment to be offensive or disturbing. Beyond allegations of harassment, there was tension from widespread consensual interoffice romances.

Departing employees have described Vice Media as a creative environment that provided professional growth, but also included low pay and overwork. A senior manager was once quoted saying that the company had a “22 Rule” hiring strategy: “Hire 22-year-olds, pay them $22,000, and work them 22 hours a day.” All the while, Vice Media was valued at $2.5 billion. Smith told employees often that most of them had stock options and would be rich soon. But the stock options and high pay never seemed to pan out. When Smith bought a $23 million house in Los Angeles, employees decided to unionize.

Change in the culture at Vice Media was reportedly underway when the New York Times reported multiple confidential settlements with employees for gender pay inequities as well as misconduct. Company founders wrote a letter to employees apologizing for the company’s culture and promising change. The company promised to pay men and women equally by the end of 2018.

Vice Media co-founder Suroosh Alvi described part of the company’s problem, saying that “there was never any specific plan that took us anywhere. We have not followed any path other than growth. We didn’t adhere to any business philosophy other than ‘survive.’”

Nancy Dubuc, who used to be the top executive at A+E Networks, took the helm of Vice Media in April 2018. Dubuc calls being CEO at Vice Media “the opportunity of a lifetime.” Smith will remain at the company as executive chairman, focusing on creating content and partnerships.

Case Questions

  1. Which of the six organizational culture dimensions apply most clearly to Vice Media’s culture?
  2. How do you think the new Vice Media CEO needs to help employees learn about changes she decides to make in the organization’s culture?
  3. If you were the new CEO at Vice Media, what actions would you take to improve the culture?
  4. Other high-tech firms have been accused of creating “college dorm” cultures. These type of cultures were unheard of in start-ups thirty years ago. What might have changed? How do you make cultures like this more professional?

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