An acquaintance of mine received a call the other day from 212-796-2000, which is a company called GDS International. My friend asked me to check them out and let him know what I thought. Little did I know that this company is in the center of a full-fledged war of words online.
After spending several dizzying hours trying to sort out fact from truth and scathing accusations, I came to the realization that an full article on GDS would be far beyond the scope of what I originally intended. So instead of re-hashing what is already out there, I felt it would be best to try to trim away all of the attacks and put together a synopsis of the battle of words.
Who is GDS International
GDS International has offices in several countries and hosts summits in a variety of fields. They have also been described as a “publishing company” as they were once known as GDS Publishing, though this appears not to be their focus now. Some have described GDS as a large sales organization. They claim to have such clients as AT&T, Microsoft, and IBM. Their website focuses on summits, which are promoted as “six months of sales meetings in two-and-a-half days.” Here, senior level executives and decision makers are said to collaborate, share ideas, and explore solutions.
According to a job posting on Ziprecruiter.com from early October 2012, they claim, “We have grown steadily over the past 19 years and have aggressive growth plans for 2012 targeting a 25% increase in revenue. In 2011 we achieved revenues of nearly $100 million…”
At the heart of the attacks on GDS is a website called gdsisascam.com. This appears to be run by an individual (or perhaps a few individuals) with a vendetta against GDS. The accusations are two-pronged. First, there are employee-based claims that GDS treats its employees poorly, and trains them to engage in underhanded tactics and outright lies when fishing for sales leads. The other part of their claims are in the business operations, namely that the product promised at the beginning of the sales pitch is not the one delivered to its customers, thus making GDS a “scam.” It has also been claimed that the high-level executives slated to appear at these summits only attend because they are paid by GDS, and not because they have any intention of making new business connections, and many of them often cancel at the last minute.
800Notes Message Board
The website 800notes.com has become an unsuspecting major player in this battle. Typically 800notes is a site in which users leave comments about telemarketing companies that call them. In this case, a war of words is being fought in the comments regarding GDS International. As of this writing, it totals 83 pages, with the first overly negative comment dated June 27, 2008. The discussion there is quite heated, with both accusations and defenses regarding a variety of alleged improprieties. Below you can see how both sides of this war have acknowledged this online battleground:
- GDS Blog: Why are there 70+ pages of complaints about GDS on a message board?
- GDSisascam: Wall of Shame
GDS Front Desk
In response to the 800notes message board, and presumably gdsisascam.com, GDS has set up their Front Desk website, aimed at “setting the record straight.” On this site, GDS claims that the bulk of the complaints against them have come from a small number of ex-employees. Here they also invite questions, but it appears that their answers are given in private.
There are three claims over the past few years on the popular “Ripoff Report” website against GDS. These complaints echo those stated on 800notes and gdsisascam, claiming GDS misrepresents event attendees and lies during their sales pitches to obtain personal information.
Nona Abdelrehim Lawsuit
An employee of GDS sued the company in 2009 for discrimination and a sexist environment. Here is a story in the New York Post from 2009 about the lawsuit at the time. At the bottom of this article is video showing a news story about the matter.
Things to Consider
The GDS war will probably always be a he-said she-said affair. It should be noted that the nature of the complaints primarily stem from the employee side of business. While there are a plethora of complaints lodged against GDS, it is more difficult to find named clients (that is, not anonymous) who felt ripped off by the organization.
No one will be able to accurately convey the truth in this war, as it appears that multiple truths exist. Having worked in a boiler-room environment before, I have little doubt that sexism and shady sales tactics are used in a room dominated by young male salesmen, which is where many of the GDS complaints arise. I have also seen ex-employees go out of their way to try to bring down their former employers.
In our search for litigation against GDS, we found little aside from a few creditor/debtor cases. There is the Nona Abdelrehim case from 2009, but we found no reports of the outcome of this case, nor did we find it in a cursory search of lawsuits in New York.
With the convoluted soap opera in mind, below are our thoughts on each side’s battle in this war.
The Anti-GDS Strategy
- What they should do: If the anti-GDS camp wishes to gain more traction, they will need to come up with specific individuals and cases, such as, “My name is John Smith from XYZ Company, and GDS contacted me on this date and made this promise and never delivered.” Anonymous employee anecdotes aren’t convincing.
- What they shouldn’t do: They should avoid personal attacks of drug use or other improprieties waged against GDS personnel, as those can be seen as underhanded or even desperate. If they have sufficient evidence about the company’s practices, there is no need to delve into personal areas.
- What they have done right: Posting GDS documents, contracts, sales pitches, and other items that reveal unflattering business practices make a strong case that GDS has issues worth investigating.
The Pro-GDS Strategy
- What they should do: GDS, if they are committed to rebutting the complaints, should go further in addressing the issues presented against them. They should post some of the questions they receive on their Front Desk, with their responses. They should also compile testimonials from satisfied customers, which one would imagine they should have after this many years in business.
- What they shouldn’t do: Threatening a lawsuit against 800notes was poor PR, which only made them appear guilty in the public eye. They should discourage angry and insulting counter-attacked found in the 800notes messages.
- What they have done right: The Front Desk idea was a good idea, though poorly implemented. Videos of Shell executives raving about a summit provide a much better testimonial than they could offer of themselves.
As of this writing, this war appears to be a stalemate. Perhaps the most curious element of the entire debate is that neither side seems to have sufficient named sources fighting their battle. GDS sticks to defending themselves, without testimonials from their 19+ years in business, while the anti-GDS camp is fueled by mostly anonymous complaints.
Should either side decide to build a public case with high-profile satisfied or dissatisfied customers, the GDS International War may be eventually be won.
Note: It is unclear how this case was ever resolved.
Filed under: Consumers