Sunday, July 5, 2009 via Voices of San Diego: The unexpected call for an abrupt allhands meeting came over the Metabasis Therapeutics public announcement system at 9 a.m. on May 27, just as employees were settling back into work after the Memorial Day holiday.
MB's scientists and other staff knew the news wouldn't be good as they filed into the 2nd floor meeting room at the company's headquarters just across from the Torrey Pines Golf Course. Good news had been hard to come by at the biotech in recent years.
The empolyees didn't, however, expect Mark Erion, CEO to walk into the room and announce that the company was all but bankrupt, and 45 out of the company's 52 employees -- was being laid off. Nor did they expect Erion to tell them that they weren't getting any severance pay, or even their unused PTO pay, and that if they didn't hurry to the bank to cash their final paycheck, it would probably be bounced.
The events over the next hours and days at Metabasis, as recounted by former employees, were bizarre, even for the world of biotech, where companies big and small can be one just one non-approved drug away from oblivion. In the conference room that morning, HR folks hurriedly handed out folders with last paychecks to employees who immediately headed to nearby BOFA branches, the only bank that Erion told them would take the checks.
"We were thrown out into a bank run," said one manager who was laid off. "It was a crazy scene, just like the 1929 market crash. It was an amazing debacle."
It turned out that the safest thing for an employee to do that day was to cash the check on the spot -- some employees left the bank with thousands in their pockets. Some who tried to have their checks wired from Bank of America to other accounts saw them returned for insufficient funds, former employees said. And some checks deposited into BOFA accounts bounced.