Martin Hosking, chairman of Melbourne, Australia-based SaaS construction collaboration technology vendor Aconex, is also chairman of a totally separate online arts community, RedBubble (read his Wikipedia profile here). This has a sideline t-shirt operation which has become embroiled in a controversy about selling t-shirts with Hitler and Holocaust motifs.
The ‘Hipster Hitler’ controversy has now been simmering away for some weeks, and various Australian blogs and websites have started to take notice, including:
- legal industry blog FirmSpy (reporting that RedBubble’s lawyers Arnold Bloch Leibler had ceased representing RedBubble because of its association with anti-semitic content)
- J-wire – a Jewish online news website (which also reported the issue was being discussed with the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, ADC, in Melbourne) – and YourJewishNews.com
- online business websites StartupSmart and SmartCompany, and
- news and gossip site Crikey
Of course, the story has almost no bearing on Aconex but the company’s name has been mentioned by people who have commented on Mr Hosking’s involvement and judgment, and most online comment is unsympathetic towards Mr Hosking’s defence of RedBubble. I also understand that some people have written to Aconex directors and shareholders. When I asked Aconex about the issue, I was told:
“We are aware that Martin Hosking’s role as non-executive chairman of Aconex is just one of his many business responsibilities. We are not involved in any of his other business dealings, and therefore cannot comment on those. We can say that as Aconex chairman, Martin’s work is well respected and highly valued.”
Aconex also referred to Mr Hosking’s comments to StartupSmart.com.au last week, ie: that RedBubble is currently in:
“productive and friendly discussions with a range of Australian-based Jewish organisations, including the ADC (the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission). Together we are working to craft a solution which balances the right to free expression against the legitimate restrictions on this. These discussions are ongoing and are drawing to a fruitful conclusion.”
This is the second time FirmSpy has figured in Aconex’s affairs, following the recent FirmSpy-stoked suggestions of conflicts of interest involving an Aconex director and its lawyers (see 10 March ExtranetEvolution post, and this 13 May FirmSpy update). A new post on FirmSpy today (1 June) also mentions Aconex and quotes both the t-shirt supplier and Martin Hosking discussing censorship.
While it is a separate issue, I know at least one disaffected Aconex shareholder is using Mr Hosking’s current discomfort to resurrect leadership concerns aired at January’s EGM (post). I have been sent a copy of a letter sent to Aconex by a minority shareholder (which I reproduce on condition of anonymity) who writes:
“… it just reinforces the problems of Mr Hosking’s qualifications and business judgment or lack thereof and the inherent inconsistency between roles as CEO of a small online art/t-shirt business and Chairman of a larger construction software company. However, Aconex’s poor financial results over the last several years and its continuing poor results, and Mr Hosking’s ultimate responsibility for the bad judgment that has caused these poor results, is a separate topic. The relevant point here is that it damages Aconex to have its Chairman push the envelope on how pro-Hitler merchandise has to be before it becomes unacceptably offensive to sell. …”
Update (02 June 2011): … StartupSmart reports that online transaction provider PayPal is reviewing the RedBubble site following complaints, and [3 June] I understand MasterCard and Visa have also received complaints.
Update (06 June 2011): With adverse coverage of Aconex now extending to The Register (suggesting that shopping centre billionaire and Aconex shareholder John Gandel is among those putting pressure on the company), a terse, one-sentence blog post from Martin Hosking (‘Pilgrim’) tells the RedBubble community:
“Pending final outcome of our discussions with a range of organisations (including the Anti-Defamation Commission) we have decided to moderate a range of controversial work on the site related to portrayals of Hitler, the Holocaust and related events.”
Update (07 June 2011): The decision was subsequently reported by StartUpSmart, which also mentions Aconex:
Hosking refuses to comment on speculation that the board of Aconex … had put pressure on him to remove the Hipster Hitler merchandise.
… Hosking confirmed that the Aconex board had received the letter and was considering it independent of him.