CEO Series

"Are You Guys F-ing Off?" Ex-Razer Staff Call Min-Liang Tan A Dictatorial, Abusive Boss

[Update: 6 December 2019, 6.05pm]

Responding to Vulcan Post’s query for comment, Razer replied that it cannot comment on matters of ongoing litigation.

“Allegations in the article mirror claims in a current lawsuit brought by one disgruntled ex-employee whose employment was terminated for misconduct, including dishonesty,” it added.

Razer has always been lauded as an established homegrown gaming hardware firm that has successfully built a cult brand from a gaming mouse.

razer tattoo
Razer tattoos / Image Credit: Financial Times

Die-hard Razer fans would set up Razer ‘shrines’, and even sport tattoos of its famous three-headed snake logo on various parts of their bodies.

Meanwhile, its CEO Min-Liang Tan, is known to be the youngest self-made billionaire in Singapore. He is listed as one of the top 50 richest in Singapore, with a current net worth of US$560 million (as of 27 August 2019).

The 42-year-old’s start-up story has been heard one too many times before — he gave up a lucrative law career in Singapore to start Razer in 2005.

Beyond gaming peripherals, Razer has stepped out of its comfort zone to launch smartphones and its own e-wallet RazerPay. It is also working on developing a car and a toaster, among other things.

Following the launch of Razer’s first smartphone, Tan listed the firm in Hong Kong in November 2017, raising HK$4.1 billion (S$721 million) in the IPO.

In 2018, Razer reported US$712.4 million in revenue.

The firm’s successes is clear to see, but underneath all the fame allegedly lies a company with a very toxic working culture.

Ex-Razer Employees Describe Tan As A “Dictator”

razer min-liang tan
Min-Liang Tan, CEO of Razer / Image Credit: Marketing Interactive

According to a Kotaku report that included anonymous interviews with 14 former Razer employees, Tan was notorious for being a dictatorial and abusive boss.

They recounted their individual experiences of Tan yelling, throwing objects, threatening employees, demanding unreasonable overtime, and behaving in other hostile ways.

Razer looks like this cool place to work, but when you get in there, you realise you’re fighting for your life all the time. Either you’re working hard or you’re being told to bugger off.

– Former Razer employee

Former employees said that Tan instilled a culture of fear at the workplace, described by two as a “dictatorship”.

“His management style became ruling by fear. He was without question a dictator,” said another ex-employee.

Tan himself affirms this description, though he contextualised it as a way to explain how he is in control of and accountable for the company.

Impulsive Firing Of Employees

Some of the ex-employees said they had seen him publicly shame and threaten to fire employees on whims over the last 15 years.

razer employees
Razer employees / Image Credit: Razer via Glassdoor

In 2012, Tan visited Razer’s U.S. office for a filming and was annoyed by the office chatter that disrupted the shoot. He told employees to shut up or he’d start firing people, according to two employees who were present on that day.

In a separate incident, Tan emailed his marketing team saying he was “officially pissed off” at them for not getting Razer listed on Fast Company’s 2014 list of Most Innovative Companies.

“Are you guys f*cking off?” he wrote.

Director of marketing Greg Agius replied with an outline for getting Tan “in front of Fast Company” and boosting his image as the “Asian Steve Jobs”. He added that an in-person media tour would have given Tan a better chance to make the cut.

Tan was dissatisfied with his reply, and fired him a few hours later, according to three ex-employees.

Another employee claimed that they were let go in 2013 for not being able to hit Tan’s ambitious sales goals. They added that it was an impossible feat to achieve with the given budget.

Min-Liang Tan Allegedly Shows Violent Tendencies

razer min-liang tan
Min-Liang Tan, CEO of Razer / Image Credit: A.List

Tan also had a reputation for volatility.

One employee said he witnessed Tan threaten to punch another employee in the face, while another claimed Tan once threw an object past him in anger (it did not hit him).

On top of that, Tan was also “verbally abusive”.

Several others described instances where he could be heard uttering numerous expletives from within offices where he was having a disciplinary talk with an employee, with some saying the door would be kept open in such situations to “publicly shame” said employee.

In an email exchange with Kotaku, Tan admits that he is “very intense” when “it comes to quality of work”.

If a product does not meet my standards, I may express dissatisfaction, including by raising my voice.

There have also been occasions where a prototype has not met my standards, and in a design meeting, I have thrown the prototype to the wall or on the floor.

– Min-Liang Tan, Razer CEO

However, Tan denies claims of him throwing objects or threatening violence towards his employees.

“I have made statements to the effect of ‘don’t make me punch you in the face’ or ‘I’ll send my killer robots after you’, but those statements have all been figurative or in jest,” he told Kotaku.

The Promise Of A Big Payday Overshadows Razer’s Culture Of Overwork

Razer Min-Liang Tan
Min-Liang Tan, CEO of Razer / Image Credit: August Man

Others said they were afraid of being fired if they didn’t work long or hard enough.

Some estimated working over 60 or even up to 100 hours a week in the time leading up to trade shows, while others said they slept overnight at the office many times.

One ex-Razer employee said he was told by his boss to get back to work after his son was in a car crash and admitted to the emergency room. Another said he was asked to work on his honeymoon.

Razer denies that employees were expected to do any of these.

“When it comes to product launches or events, many of our employees work additional hours to prepare for it. This is common in a tech start-up,” said a Razer representative to Kotaku.

“However, these are typically short windows that do not last more than a few days. Moreover, employees are not expected to work 60 to 100-hour workweeks or to sleep overnight at the office.

He added that Razer is a “family-friendly employer,” and have adopted policies aimed at supporting employees with families.

The ex-employees reasoned that they only stuck around because of a promise of a big payday once Razer goes public.

Tan would often imply that all the long hours would lead to huge checks, they said.

At our town hall meetings, [Tan] would come by and say employees would be able to buy fancy cars, they’d be able to retire.

– Former Razer employee

Another recalled Tan saying at a global meeting that he didn’t want everyone driving their Lamborghinis into work on the same day after the IPO.

When the IPO finally took place, some Razer employees did get the paycheques they had hoped for, worth up to US$200,000 in some cases.

Others were underwhelmed by the results, since it differed from their expectations based on the initial stock letter.

Instead of a Lamborghini, they got “used car money” instead, said a former employee.

Is Razer Really A Toxic Company?

On Glassdoor — a website that allows current and former employees to leave an anonymous review of a company — listed Razer with an average rating of 3.5.

68% of the reviewers would recommend Razer to a friend, while 80% approves of the CEO (ie. Min-Liang Tan).

Razer Singapore reviews on Glassdoor

In Singapore however, the rating drastically increases to 4.2 and almost all (98%) said they approve of the CEO.

One described Razer as “one of the best (companies) to work hard and play hard” while another said the “workplace culture is great”.

Another also said that Razer has “great mentors” and a “strong, nurturing environment”.

Many cited “free lunch” as the biggest employee perk, and did not highlight any particular downsides to working at Razer.

Of course, there are still some who left negative reviews about the company.

One said that it has a “poor work environment” thanks to the “corporate suckups”, while another said it has limited career progression opportunities.

Review on Glassdoor
Review on Glassdoor

There were also some reviews that echoed Kotaku’s reports — employees have to literally work 24 hours when on critical projects, and “many are fearful to rock the boat due to constant threat of termination”.

These Glassdoor reviews are very varied, with most sitting on polar opposites of the spectrum so it’s best to take them with a pinch of salt.

And even despite the grievances, the employees Kotaku spoke to said they were grateful for the “opportunities at Razer”. They maintain they owe the success of their careers in gaming to the hardware company.

We have since reached out to Razer to hear their comments on these allegations.

Featured Image Credit: Dickson Lee

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