Sunday, January 23, 2011

I was Fired...

I’ve received a lot of advice concerning this series of posts: Keep it factual. Keep it a-political. Don’t get into exchanging insults. It’s taken me a few days to sort through it all and decide how much I want to say, but now I’m finished.

I’ve decided to keep it short, avoid speculation, and try to take the high road (where one exists to take). And that means being honest, and first and foremost, honest with myself. There are a couple of difficult truths I have to face up to, and I can’t wave the banner of objectivity without admitting them freely. So here goes…

I was fired from my position as Group President at Valmont Industries. I didn’t quit. I didn’t take another job. I didn’t leave to “pursue other opportunities”. I wasn’t the victim of a corporate reorganization. I was forcibly separated from the job, and that wasn’t what I wanted.

It was the first time I’ve ever had the experience, and I must admit: it’s hard. What’s worse is – there was some justification for letting me go. Enough? In my judgment, no. I wouldn’t have cut me, but it wasn’t my decision to make.

Of course I’ve ruminated about this subject incessantly. I’ve come to the conclusion the cause for my termination fall into four categories: financial performance issues, stubbornness on my part, peculiarities of the company, and the economic collapse. Of course, there were good things happening as well, but they seemed to count for little, as did my lengthy successful track record. It really is a world where “what have you done for me lately” dominates personnel decisions.

The financial issues occurred in four areas – (1) I recommended the purchase of a company, and it was significantly missing forecast, (2) I had a large manufacturing plant experience a meltdown, after I agreed to replace the plant manager, (3) I placed a big bet on a new plant with new technology which was running far behind schedule, and (4) I couldn’t get a small plant fixed despite two years of effort to make it happen. The causes, cures and details behind each of these problems could each fill a chapter of a book. Suffice it to say – they were real and difficult problems, and from a timing standpoint -- all overlapped. This “perfect storm” seemed to trump anything positive going on in other parts of my area of responsibility.

I’m also a stubborn person who doesn’t like asking permission, or taking direction from others. This was a problem throughout my time at Valmont, and needled my boss. I knew what he wanted, and I was consistently reluctant to provide it. There was a strange dynamic going on that even today I sometimes am puzzled by. He put up with my antics when things were going well, but it was definitely a contributor to my demise. The area where I was most intractable was over staffing choices. I had my opinions about who should be on my staff, and I wasn’t particularly interested in arguing about it.

I won’t say much about the company peculiarities, other than to note two of the three divisions I managed in my last assignment were known “career killers”. During my eleven years with the company, I watched as no less than eight general managers and presidents crash on the rocks of those two divisions. I was number nine. I’ll also note I was the longest tenured division president when I left the company, and eleven years in such roles at Valmont certainly must be close to a modern record.

The other three conditions determined my fate, the economic collapse determined the timing. I might have had more time to solve the problems, if the economy was stronger. I was responsible for three divisions up until the final months, all three of which had their own general managers in place. Unfortunately for me, I’d made myself expendable, and I was expensive – cutting me was equivalent to cutting several other people.

So that’s the start of the story – I was fired, and it hurt. I mostly enjoyed what I did at Valmont, and I definitely respected and liked the people I worked with. But worst of all, being fired was a huge blow to my confidence and self image, and that was at least part of the reason for my reaction.

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