In a fashionable introduction, Editor in chief and founder of Hip & Haute Houston, makes her mark upon the Houston Fashion Market. However, continuing a successful business has its ups and downs. In an interview, October 1, 2013; Mrs. Jana Phillips explains some of the recent trials and tribulations that could plaque anyone, as a business owner. She delves into how the loss of her husband, the way she was treated by his place of employment upon his death; and how it can take a toll on business. The relationship she explains her husband had with his employer, portrayed a great workplace up until it that moment…..
Mrs. Phillips, Thank you for your time on discussing workplace relationships from your perspective, with quite a few to consider. First I would like to know how HOUSTON HIP & HAUTE was established. Where was the idea conceived?
“HOUSTON HIP AND HAUTE began when a friend of mine said she would like us to work together. We were both working in different industries. She had the idea to do some sort of monthly email about Houston fashions, stores and activities. We brainstormed and came up with HOUSTON HIP AND HAUTE. It started as a monthly email, then became a bi monthly e-zine, then a weekly e-zine. We worked together for 4 years, and then my friend decided to retire. I continued as sole publisher, ad sales, and one man office for HHH.”
What is your background or interest in fashion?
“I have had a love of fashion from the time I was born. My Mother has always dressed elegantly, and installed a classic style within me. HHH gives me the opportunity to incorporate my love of and fashion, all things Houston, and writing. I have been fortunate to interview up- and- coming fashion designers, like Norman Ambrose and David Peck, as well as haute couture designers like Zang Toi, and Don O’Neill of Theia.”
What are some of your most recent successes with your business?
HHH continues to grow and be more successful each year. Each week, through word of mouth, I receive several new subscribers. I have added a HHH YouTube channel, where I video fashion and other events, as well as video interviews with designers. I have added an HHH boutique with different vendors selling their products. And I am flattered when I tell someone that I publish HHH, they have heard of it. I have an intern, who is a journalism major at the University of Houston, and has been a wonderful asset by covering fashion and charity events and writing about them, and doing social media for HHH. She started with me after my husband, David, passed away, and it was a true blessing to have her help.”
My first topic of interest with Examiner.com is workplace relationships, as I explained earlier. I was intrigued to hear your story about Mr. Phillips death and the encounters you faced with his recent employer upon his death. I consume myself a lot with the many dynamics of a workplace and the relationships that are formed from the inside out. With that, when people spend more time at work that they do at home, co-workers become familiar faces such as family. And the business is like a family.
How did the passing of your husband, David affect your business or did it at all? How do you move beyond and still keep him alive in your heart?
“My husband, David Watkins Phillips and I were beginning our 30th year of marriage. He was a kind, sweet, intelligent, loving man. He had been ill with a chronic gastrointestinal problem which led to heart failure and his passing on June 11, 2012. His death was a shock to me. He passed away at home, and it was very traumatic. We were best friends and soul mates.”
“I stopped producing HHH for several weeks. I was overwhelmed with grief and dealing with all that goes along with a sudden death and estate issues. I started working again to keep the business going and bring in money. I am thankful I have my faith, family, and dear friends who have helped me since David’s passing. I miss him every day, and I think it is harder after the first year, because the shock is gone, but only your true friends are the ones who ask how are you really doing? I am alone, and life and work keep moving; even if I am sad and missing David. So I have to continue to work and move forward.
Tell me what David’s relationship was like with BB&T. How long was he with the company? What was his position and what company achievements would you say he was most responsible for?
“David worked at BB&T as an Energy banker. He was a top producer there, and from his client base, he brought in one of the top three deposits in the history of the bank, as well as numerous loans to energy companies. David was an honors graduate of Texas A&M University Chemical Engineering and an honors graduate of the Southern Methodist University MBA program, and was an Energy Banker for over 20 years.”
“David’s relationship with BB&T began when he worked at the now defunct Sterling Bank in 2010. David was an SVP with Sterling in their Energy Lending group in 2010 when a department manager began looking into other banks where the entire department could move to, and out of Sterling Bank. Sterling was having internal problems, and was later bought by Comerica bank, after David’s group announced they were leaving and going to BB&T.”
“The Energy Department consisted of five people: Jeff Forbis, David, Ryan Michel, Parul June, and a department assistant Cheri Allen. Ryan had worked for Dave for several years starting at Washington Mutual, and David brought Ryan with him to Sterling Bank. David had known Jeff for years in the Energy lending industry before working with him at Sterling.”
“A department manager found out that BB&T was interested in starting an Energy group, and opening it in Houston, the Energy Capital of the World. BB&T is based in Winston-Salem NC, and is ranked in the top ten banks in the country. They had been successful on the East coast and were moving west and adding new departments and buying other businesses. After a few months of discussions, an agreement was reached that the entire group would start BB&T’s new energy group. They started February 7, 2011, and at the time of David’s passing he had been there one year and three months.” David’s title was Senior Vice President, BB&T Capital Markets: Energy Group
You mentioned that you have not been able to reconcile with BB&T since your husband’s passing; with regards to benefits. What exactly has taken place?
“Since David’s death, I have not received David’s hard earned benefits and salary. BB&T refuses to pay me my husband’s vacation pay, bonus pay, stock options, as well as release his 401K and Aflac insurance. In simplistic terms, they are acting like they do not owe the estate anything because he died. I contacted BB&T by phone and letters, including a demand letter from my attorney with no answer or explanation from BB&T as to why they are not responding or sending the estate the items and money due. In March 2013, I filed a lawsuit against BB&T to receive what is due to David. I am taking this step of a lawsuit with regret.” "I have received two W-2’s from BB&T—one with an amount that David should have earned, and then a corrected W-2, with a lower amount of what BB&T has apparently decided to pay him, not based on his work, but what they want to pay.”
“We have a court date in December and that will mean BB&T has chosen to pay a Houston law firm to not pay me, David’s widow, for what he already earned. . When we go to court, in December, it will be one year and six months since David’s passing, and for BB&T not paying me what David earned.”
How do you feel the relationship between you and BB&T has changed since your husband’s death?
My relationship with BB&T since David’s death is deplorable. They did not answer my questions, return my calls, answer my letters, or the demand letter, and have forced me to take legal action. Their actions are disrespectful to David and all his hard work even while he had a chronic illness. They should be ashamed of themselves, and ‘I consider them to be crooks.’ ”
“You mentioned about co-workers as family. It is a sad state of affairs when co-workers who have known and worked with David over 10 years do not attend the funeral services and do not take action to have what was earned paid to his widow.”
“The week after David’s passing I emailed to set up a time to clean out David’s office. They would not allow me to come to his office. They packed up his items and couriered them to me. I would have liked to have sat in his chair, and packed his things myself. I have not received a call or email, or card from his co-workers to ask how I am doing without David. I believe they take the approach that they have nothing to gain in being fair and decent to a co-worker’s widow.”
What is actually going on with the current process of collecting your husband’s benefits at the present moment?
“I am preparing for the case depositions with my lawyer, and the court case is set for early December. And my lawsuit is not the only lawsuit against BB&T at this time. I have found out that the Bank is being sued in class action for similar wrong actions against employees.”
Do you feel their insensitivity for this situation reflects on management policies?
“Yes, they appear to be mismanaged and do not care about their employees or their employees’ families. BB&T has recently opened 30 branches in Houston, so management is focusing on that expansion, rather than being honest and paying an employee what he is due. It begs the question, what would they do with a customer dispute, if this is how they treat the estate of an employee for money already earned?”
What would be your recommendation for BB&T to redeem themselves, to the point that you would be willing to do business with them again?
“Before I can consider doing any future business with BB&T, then they need to be honest and pay me as David’s executor and beneficiary what is due, and for putting me through this hell after losing my husband. I hope my lawsuit will prevent this from happening to other people whose spouses die and they are not paid what is due.”
Jana, I want to commend you on your strength to share this story. We realize speaking about success and the loss of a loved one can be a bitter sweet taste and sometimes hard to discuss. We do appreciate your time, as I feel that it is important to know what a person may encounter from a level of service rendered in the event of such a situation. A company that has your business and or hard work and skill as a co-worker, family member of a co-worker; should have a better interest in the well-being of that individual and the ones they leave behind. This truly speaks to the workplace on so many levels from David being a passionate and dedicated worker, where he gave his life and tim. Thanks for sharing.
For more information about Jana’s E-Zine and store, HOUSTON HIP AND HAUTE; www.houstonhipandhaute.com or Email: hou