In our report you heard from Rob Semaan -- the former CEO of fig. -- for the first time since his company collapsed.
His Maryland Heights-based company grew from a few local clinics to 18 clinics in 8 states. The allure of fig. was a treatment called lipo-dissolve -- a non-surgical, fat-trimming procedure.
The company shut down in early December and filed for bankruptcy in early January, leaving hundreds of workers without jobs and thousands of customers wondering about future treatments -- treatments for which they had paid thousands of dollars.
While some fig. workers volunteered their time to help customers, Semaan was soon out of the country. He is Australian and married to a native of Fiji. And it was on that South Pacific island where News 4 Investigates found him.
After searching the Fiji white pages (who knew?!) we had a half-dozen addresses and phone numbers where Semaan could have been.
A series of international phone calls put us in touch with several very helpful members of Semaan's family. After about 20 minutes, we were in possession of his mobile number.
Amazed at the way this had worked out, I took a deep breath and dialed.
Rob Semaan answered on the fourth ring.
After initally saying he didn't want to talk, Semaan ultimately was difficult to get off the phone. He spoke to me, producer Steve Perron and photojournalist Bill McCormac for a half hour. Here is some of what Semaan had to say:
On why fig. had to shut down with no notice to employees or customers:
"Its a very unfortunate event that investors pulled out at the last minute and that's what happened.
"At the very last minute, the last week of November, investors pulled out because they were nervous about the U.S. economy."
Semaan identified the key investor as Bessemer Venture Partners of Larchmont, N.Y.
Why was Semaan's fig. sales team continuing to sign new clients until the day the company closed down?
"Because we had the full confidence that investors were going to put in additional $6 million we were in process of raising. In fact, I put in a million dollars of my own money. They [Bessemer] literally pulled out on a Thursday night, and we decided Friday to wind things down, and stop taking money from patients."
Was it fair to continue selling fig. contracts knowing if this money did not come through it could not continue as a business?
"We learned about it on Thursday night and shut down on Friday morning."
On charges that he allowed the company to expand too rapidly, leading to financial disaster:
"When you grow a business at the rate we were, it was expected that you would continue to need to raise capital.
"That was expected. What was unexpected was that investors that had previously put $11 million into the business would not come to the party and would do so with no notice to us."
In this exchange, Semaan says he believes he is "in the same boat" as all of his other employees who lost their jobs.
Semaan: "I'm in the exact same boat. This was a bad deal for everybody including me. We did best we could."
Chamraz: "You know and I know that you are in much different situation than somebody who was making $35,000 to $40,000 a year and trying to raise a family."
Semaan: "No Steve, there is no difference. I mean, you change the zeros a bit on the equation but I'm in the exact same boat. They [former employees] are also in a different boat, all they have to do is go out and find a new job. My worse case scenario is dealing with all the fall-out. I'm in a whole different case of complex problems that i'm trying to deal with it with people on the ground.
"That's the God-honest truth."
Does Semann feel he let his friends or colleagues down?
"I think it's an unfortunate set of events, culminated as result of a 'perfect storm.' We were doing great all the way through August. We did the absolute best to do right by everyone."
Semaan insists he is doing everything he can to communicate with employees, through letter, and with former customers on the fig. website, which remains up and running. The site includes specific information for customers in different states.
Was this "unavoidable"?
Semaan says the pull-out by investors and resulting bankruptcy was completely unseen and "unavoidable." But former workers we spoke with tell a different story.
We spoke with ten former fig. employees, all of whom worked at the company's Maryland Heights headquarters and many of whom held positions of high rank. All but one say there were widespread concerns about the rapid pace of expansion and the money being expended on new offices. One worker claims a group of employees actually approached management last Summer with their concerns.
A "Celebrity Victim?"
The allure of fig. was always about beauty and physical perfection. Supermodel and celebrity spokesperson, Kim Alexis knows all about that... and she has a special connection to fig. Alexis starred in a half-hour infomercial for the company.
And now, she plays a starring role in the fig. bankruptcy. Alexis holds down the fifth spot in the list of top 20 creditors. Her company is claiming $13,333.32 from fig. assets.