There is no shame in being fired

If there is one thing that the Cyrus Mistry ouster might have taught every employee in every company in India, it might be that there is no shame in being shown the door. After all aren’t most firings shoved under the carpet, because most executives who are about to be sacked are offered the olive branch of ‘would you like to resign?’. But ironically most corporate executives would like to hide the fact that they were sacked and happily offer a resignation letter to the employer. To hide a shame that might affect the rest of their careers.

Corporate India needed one high level sacking like Cyrus Mistry from such a honorable, large and respected firm like the Tatas to learn that there is nothing wrong in being fired. And it is certainly more honorable and courageous to tell your employer that you will not be offering a resignation letter, and that you are the happy for the company to give you the pink slip. Think about it. Which act needs more honor and courage?

Cyrus Mistry is not alone in the list of high profile corporate sackings that have been openly acknowledged in the annals of corporate and management history. Take Jamie Dimon. In a power struggle Weill left American Express in 1985 and Dimon followed him. The two then took over Commercial Credit. Dimon served as the CFO, helping to turn the company around. Through a series of unprecedented mergers and acquisitions, in 1998 Dimon and Weill were able to form the largest financial services conglomerate the world had ever seen, Citigroup. Dimon left Citigroup in November 1998, after being asked to resign by Weill during a weekend executive retreat.It was rumored at the time that he and Weill argued in 1997 over Dimon’s not promoting Weill’s daughter, Jessica M. Bibliowicz. One other account cites a request by Dimon to be treated as an equal as the real reason. In his 2005 University of Chicago Graduate School of Business Fireside Chat and 2006 Kellogg School of Management interviews, Dimon confirmed that Weill fired him.

In March 2000, Dimon became CEO of Bank One. When JPMorgan Chase purchased Bank One in July 2004, Dimon became president and Chief Operating Officer of the combined company. On December 31, 2005, he was named Chief Executive Officer of J P Morgan Chase and on December 31, 2006, he was named chairman of the board.

But those were two high profile senior corporate executives that were sacked. Let us now turn our attention to famous people in other fields who were sacked very early in their career.

People from other fields who were fired

Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star in 1919 because, his editor said, he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

J K Rowling got fired when working at the London office of Amnesty International because she would write stories on her work computer all day long.

Oprah Winfrey was an evening news reporter and apparently got fired because she couldn’t sever her emotions from her stories. Eventually she was fired from the producer of Baltimore’s WJZ-TV.

So the most famous well known people in history have been sacked. And if they had just resigned without a whimper, no one would have known they were sacked and perhaps if they hadn’t openly admitted they were sacked, they wouldn’t have become famous.

In one of my jobs as CEO in my rather long career of thirty nine years across three continents, two of my most trusted lieutenants organized a coup against me by collaborating with my Chairman and a powerful board director. I was sidelined into a position that sounded grand, but had no power and paid me a fraction of what I was earning earlier. ( I left the company a little later ). My lieutenants I believe said ‘they didn’t need a Rottweiler in the organization’. I was so shocked because I had not only been so good to both of them and promoted them in subsequent years, but gone out of my way to help one of them during a severe personal tragedy. But this is to be expected. The corporate world is full of deception and duplicity. So the Chairman decided to take the Rottweiler away, but to use the same metaphor, you can expect a house to be robbed without a guard dog. The last I heard of, the same company was languishing at a third of its revenue within three years of my departure, overburdened by a large loss and the company was practically in the ICCU.

                                                                      Strong beliefs make strong men, and then make them stronger

                                                                                                                   Richard Bach

Thank you Cyrus for laying an example for the rest of corporate India and showing us that backing your beliefs is always a worthwhile cause. We now know it is alright to get fired. Rather than making it easy for your employer, by offering your resignation letter and running away with your tail between your legs and pretending nothing happened. And lastly don’t forget that sacking a good guy may do the company more damage, than it does to the employee’s reputation.