Saturday 03 Dec 2016

The Firing Line
David Simmonds

It is always refreshing to read of the downfall of a high flyer. Goodness knows that top executive pay is so high. It feels almost thrilling to see one get his comeuppance every now and then.


One executive or another suddenly decides to pursue other interests.

For example, when Acme Widgets Inc. suddenly announces its chief executive has quickly and from his standpoint, unexpectedly, decided to “pursue other opportunities,” we wink, knowing the unfortunate fellow commandeered the corporate jet to fly his girlfriend’s poodle to Palm Springs for the weekend. He deserves to go.

Firing is more common among top executives, these days. According to a Wharton School of Business survey, almost 25 per cent of Fortune 500 chief executives lost his or her job in a recent 15-year period, about double the level of the previous period. The firing language is getting a little blunter, too.

Take the case of Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. The company chair stated of previous management that, “All these investments the company made in Canada ... were a disaster. I’m not the type that’s too much of a Monday morning quarterback, but these are very clear. These decisions were misguided decisions all the way.” Which, as an excuse for a firing, only works if you’re not the guy that hired the previous management. Otherwise, you’re just flinging mud at yourself. If the executives you fired were so bad, aren’t you just admitting that your judgment in hiring them stinks?

It does set one to thinking of some corny stand-up comedy routine:

Cliffs Chair: “You wouldn’t believe how bad previous management was...”

Heckler: “How bad was it?”

Cliffs Chair: “It was so bad, their golden parachutes wouldn’t open!”

The people I feel a little sorry for are those in lower management who take the fall for performance failures while the most senior management types keep their own jobs. Take, as an example, professional sports coaches. If a team finishes in the bottom third or so of its league, the coach is always at fault and he or she is out on his or her ear. If the team finishes in the middle third of the pack, the coach gets the axe anyway because the team is underperforming, the chemistry isn’t right and the coach isn’t fit to ‘take the team to the next level.’ If the team finishes in the top third, woe betide the coach next year, because any slippage is a failure to meet heightened expectations, so the coach is out. Meanwhile, the upper management type finally gets a chance to ‘bring in a coach of his choosing’ and stave off his own firing until that one doesn’t work out either.

Then the wheel turns inexorably, as a one-time fired coach is eventually deemed after a suitable period of banishment to have the ‘NHL coaching experience’ that is necessary to get an under-performing group of players going, and has now become a the top candidate to become a miracle worker, at least until he is fired again.


Recently fired Toronto Maple Leafs coach, Randy Carlyle, supposedly is “serene” and “relieved.”

Coaches must learn to take a Zen-like attitude to the vicissitudes of employment. Recently fired Toronto Maple Leafs coach, Randy Carlyle, supposedly is “serene” and “relieved.” New York Knicks general manager, Phil Jackson, promotes meditation, mindfulness and living in the moment; he taught these skills to his teams. The only problem is that the Knicks are sitting dead last in the NBA standings, with 5 wins and 36 losses. Either the timing is off, “No, you dolt, don’t meditate during the game,” or the contact is not great, “Say Phil, which moment is it we’re supposed to be living in again?” Then again, Jackson is not the coach; he’s the coach’s boss. His job is safe for a while.

The employees I feel most sorry for are ones on the lower rungs, of the ladder of success, about whom the ‘ambiguous recommendation’ joke industry developed. You know, the “You will be lucky to get Mr. Smedley to work for you,” the “I remember Ms. Farnsworthy fondly as a former colleague” or the “Mr. Blodgins left an indelible mark on our firm” type of recommendation letter that has to be parsed carefully for its dual meaning to be revealed. The inability to obtain a ‘clean’ letter of reference can be fatal to a young career; so I don’t derive much pleasure from the prospect.

You know that chief executive that flew his girlfriend’s poodle to Palm Springs. Turns out the dog, a Rottweiler, belonged to his mother and went to Cleveland. He sued and won a big settlement. He’s planning to buy a hockey team with the money, ask Randy Carlyle to coach it and then to fire him.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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