Sitting in my office last week, facing the man I had just fired,
I thought of the contrast 'tween that scene
and the one twenty four months prior when he was hired.
See, that time he was plumb tireless, tough, vibrant, un-tongue-tied,
and I let the man speak. He was flashy, dressed with impressive impeccable style.
Never antsy, but positive, with good posture and a confident expression and smile,
so I was keen to listen with eager interest.
But last week it was I who talked for the bulk of the chat,
and this is something I can't as of yet reconcile
because he sulked and he sat like a petulant child with his arms crossed,
from the start cross, defensive and riled up,
up to his neck in a pile of irreverence, bile, contempt and denial.
“Your contract has sixteen months to run. My proposition, should you deem adequate,
is we cancel it and I grant you this severance of ten grand and just
wash my hands of it.”
He glanced at it. Leaned back a bit,
then he answered with a show of bigheaded, pigheaded pride.
Not hostile, just full throttle bravado.
He waved the check aside,
said he'd hold me to the contract, if I didn't want that,
I should have never signed.
I then replied that it was his privilege, it wouldn't get denied,
just that it was senseless to exercise.
So I set aside the check and I suggested why not review
the situation for a second time?
“You started on january first nineteen twenty two as the general sales manager,
at a salary of twenty five thousand dollars.
In reality, amongst your peers it was the highest
of any executive position, yet your record in the business appeared to justify it
The letters you brought referenced a lot of premium prowess.
High praise. They said your sales genius abounded.
The only question my mind raised, was why they
didn't keep you around if you so exceedingly wowed them.
When I mentioned it, you just said that the competitors had repeatedly outbid
them for you and I accepted it. No grievance around it, just as pristine as it sounded.
I didn't learn the truth until you had been here a year
and then it hit hard cause you're whip smart and a quick starter,
but a poor finisher. No finisher at all, if we're sincere.”
“Who told you that?” He demanded boldly.
“Nobody told me. Nobody needed to. I can see the proof revealed through
your effect on your own team.”
“Team?! Please, it's clear you haven't got a team,” he sneered conceitedly.
“So you've been saying, repeatedly, quite frequently
in fact you might even be reasonably right.
The other folks in this have mostly grown with us in our own business.
What they know isn't comparable with your expertise,
especially outside of the same old tricks of this old system. We are no wizards.
That's why we had hoped this could mutually benefit both interests
and we could learn from having a real pro with us.
And you were sure you could work wonders, we were eager and zealous...”
“Oh yeah, they sure loved it, your people were jealous
before I put up the first numbers.
They sat back and dared me to show results. That's just dysfunctional,
I told you that six months ago.”
“I remember that exchange, and my answer still hasn't changed.
Any man that claims to be a brilliant salesman should be unwilling to fail in
the first essential task he takes, and that's to say
you never sold yourself to the people with whom and through whom you wanted to work.
You say the problem at first was they were jealous, but a man of your intelligence
ought to be able to tell that these fellas just relish modesty, hard work and results.
They're not heart surgeons the bulk are just hard workin' adults
who aren't certain the pulse of our version results
in any less than the men who dress in superfine yarn shirts cause the culture
of Harvard is repulsive
when you were raised on bruises, scrapes and manure stains in farms, churches and gulches.
And you're from the ivy league and the irony
is you think the idea of doing yard work is insulting.
Plus you hated the plant.
Now, I'm sorry to say it, but we aren't Rhodes scholars,
'cept for what our folks taught us about tarrin' and pavin'.
The answer if they're jealous is to develop that levelheadedness,
then you'll get the respect and then can depend on your workers to settle in.
And yet you sat stagnant, trying to pass the buck. They'd have been glad to jump
on your band wagon fast enough
if you'd shown them an advantage to it.
But after losin' their patience waitin' for the band wagon to start actually movin',
the last conclusion left at hand was steppin back assuming
it wasn't gonna start. And it never has.
You brought your own assistants from your old position
and we paid what you asked.
Even though we were taken aback, we had faith in your knack.
You were so convincin'.
You moved our offices away from the plant,
took up these pricey quarters on the corner of Main and 5th Ave,
all maple with granite masonry, glass, facing the plaza,
and got double our old budget for your campaigns and your ads.
Every request you ever made I would grant as whole-heartedly as I knew how
and drew down our savings as needed because I believed that
your fresh ideas just might be the leap that we needed to make the crew proud.
If only then I'd known what I do now.
See, twenty some months have passed
the budget's massive and your numbers flat
and we're watching all your trumped up plans go kaput.
That's the stubborn fact that one just can't up 'n overlook.
Now I've got to choose between a young stallion and my good old wheel horses
whose mediocrity could somehow constantly push a whole deal forth with
sun up to sun down profiting. Albeit modestly, no real fortune,
but we had full meal portions. We made our daughters and our sons proud honestly.
Don't feel forced ‘cause, either way, you can leave or stay
'til the end of your contract
if you want that,
but you'll have no further responsibilities,
no function and no purpose in our facilities.
And I got a hunch it's worse
because once the word gets out about what's occurred
with this humongous bird
that's quit singing, it's got clipped wings and it's
too stubborn, nervous and proud to stop puffing its chest out
long enough to step down from its perch…
No. For all your cop-outs and rhetoric, you'll still walk out discredited.
So keep clutching that branch if you must, but nothing will last.
Whether you jump in advance or balk 'til all of a sudden it cracks,
you'll still end up jobless,
wishing you had long since begun your search.
Never mind your conscience, just listen to logic,
because your feet will touch the earth
and eventually you will come across some paw prints.
So this is ten thousand dollars.
I'm willing to strain the budget and face the punishment for my mistake in judgment.
And step back and rethink a little the people I place my trust in.
As for you, well, at your age it's just as easy to take the drubbing
and learn from the wisdom you're gaining from it
as it is to play the puppet, vain and gutless, turned to a victim, taking umbrage.
At this stage of the game, you may succumb to
the petty whims of your ego or stay above it.
You choose.”

He made a little further show of protest, let a slow breath from his chest,
and accepted the check.
I suspect for a second, at the crest of the tension, he was tempted to shred it,
but he suppressed the intention and left with a sense of apprehensive dejection
and not a speck of resemblance to the man who'd stepped in the entrance
incensed and aggressive. And he was gone with less than a sentence,
which I suppose is as much as I could have ever expected.
I wonder what old-line company will next be dazzled
by the sales talk he so deftly handles,
only to be stuck with the failed plots, veiled frauds and hefty hassles
of a paper trail fraught with the stale posturing
of the same frail flop that left me rattled.
I wonder, who's next in line
to slay a dragon for an empty castle with no treasure chest inside?
Nothing but the regrets and the stress and the mess and the debts to find?
Any friend of mine who knows me and my enterprise can testify
that I'm usually one for hedgin' my bets but I reckon I went awry,
and the result, well, it wasn't the best surprise.
There's no sense in trying to be trite or nasty,
so I contemplate what I ought to say when the next boss across the way writes to ask me
why we were willing to let him go. I mean,
what can I in good conscience say? I mean,
what's the proper phrase? I mean,
what's the honest way for my response to place
him on the range from ‘we weren't on the same
wavelength’ to ‘watch out, he's a pompous naif.
He's non-stop with the suave talk but he can't concentrate.’

If I tell the entire truth it may end his business career.
And there is always the hope that, next time, he will act not so foolishly.
Not so stupidly. He'll adopt a suitably modest approach
and when he sees it he'll seize his opportunity for positive growth.
I know it'd be a shock to you and me,
given his lack of discipline and lack of balance, but he has the talent.
There is no doubt about that.
He is undeniably a very brilliant man.

This piece owes its existence to an essay titled Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men

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The Ups and Downs of Almost Dying

The autobiography of Kieran Block as told to Michael Belzil

Now available online and in select stores.

The Ups and Downs of Almost Dying