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Firing Nemo: Endeca, Oracle, and the cultural aftershocks of an acquisition

Posted by Scott Kirsner  June 10, 2013 12:40 PM

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puffer.jpg

A former Endeca exec told me the story last month about what had happened to the company's mascot, Puffer, after their Cambridge software company was acquired by Oracle Corp. for $1.1 billion. Basically, the pufferfish was laid off, the victim not of an inflated salary or a redundant role, but of a no-animals-in-the-office policy at Oracle.

It seemed like a pretty good symbol of the way big acquirers sometimes stomp on the culture of what they have acquired, to the point where the talent starts walking out the door. (At this point, I know far more ex-Endeca employees than I do people who've stuck around. And I've written about some of the new startups they've been forming.) When I heard the story, I knew I had to write about Puffer.

Here's the opening of Sunday's column about Endeca, Oracle, and Puffer. Afterward is the farewell e-mail that Puffer "wrote" to her colleagues at Endeca on her last day, along with a video of Puffer in her saltwater tank.

This is the story of Puffer, a sprightly little pufferfish who lived in an office building in Cambridge. Puffer was the mascot of a company called Endeca. Every day, when the software developers would show up for work on the 15th floor, the first thing they would see when they got off the elevator was Puffer, swimming happily in her tank.

All the employees loved Puffer. They put her picture on posters that promoted companywide parties. And when she puffed up ó which was not very often ó people took pictures and e-mailed them to their co-workers. The employees who helped take care of Puffer, feeding her krill and algae, loved her even more. She would follow them whenever they walked past her tank, sometimes bonking into the glass.

But one day in 2011, one of the richest men in the world decided to buy Endeca. He paid more than $1 billion for the company, which created software to help businesses analyze their operations or organize the products sold on their websites. And thatís when things changed for Puffer and her friends.

This is the story of Puffer, but itís also the story of those thousand tiny changes that big companies often make when they acquire smaller ones. And about how those changes often lead to the loss of the very same talent the big company hoped to bring on as part of the deal.

(Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Lin, a former Endecan who helped take care of Puffer.)

Puffer's goodbye e-mail to her colleagues:

Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2012 09:25:01 -0500 Subject: Thank you and good bye!

Friends/Fellow Endecans,

As most of you are aware, today is my last day at Endeca. I wanted to extend my sincere thanks to all of you for pitching in at various times to feed me, add water to my tank, entertain me, etc. I am excited to be swimming off to my next adventure. It is never an easy decision but I am looking forward to a change in tanks after roughly 10 years with all of you and three office moves.

You are an extremely talented bunch of individuals and I wish all of you the best. I will be taking my roommates with me and we will be well cared for. I attached a brief [video] clip to show you my appreciation measured in my usual excitement to see you every morning as I have yet to learn how to speak.

Please swing by and say hi as I will be leaving this afternoon with many fond memories of my friends.

Off to cleaner waters!

Puffer - (Yes, I am a girl as folks keep asking me that!)

Puffer "Puff"
After Hours Security Manager
617.674.PUFF
puffer@endeca.com

Puffer the Pufferfish from Scott Kirsner on Vimeo.

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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