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In tough times, people say to “stay positive”. But, that may feel impossible, especially when things are really going wrong. In the face of serious adversity, it is hard to imagine how or when things will get better. But, that’s when it is most important to press on with the belief that something good – something totally unexpected – is just around the corner. There are countless examples of people who faced major job losses, harsh criticism and painful setbacks, and still went on to do great things. Their perseverance, tenacity and positive outlook propelled them from setback to success. Sometimes it made it possible to find opportunities that might not have otherwise been possible. In fact, it almost seems like a person must endure a painful but necessary experience to activate their highest and best skills, talents and abilities.
Fired in the Renaissance
Take the story of Sir Isaac Newton. He was ‘removed’ from his job as overseer of his family’s farm in Lincolnshire after his grandmother and mother realized that he hated the work. He then was allowed to return to school. Because he was ‘let go’ from a job he hated, he went on to become a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist and theologian. But, he wasn’t just an important scientist. Today’s modern and technologically-advanced era of scientific supremacy would not have been possible without Newton’s scientific and mechanical contributions. Thank goodness he was sent off the farm.
Similarly, the great German composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was fired as a musician in the court of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. As the history books tell it, Mozart had returned to Salzburg in early 1779 in the hopes of using the Archbishop to meet the Emperor and perhaps get a job working for him in Vienna. The Archbishop, however, did not want Mozart to perform elsewhere and tried to constrain him. Mozart refused to conform and was dismissed. Suddenly unemployed, Mozart moved to Vienna anyway and began working as a freelance musician and composer, which turned out to be life-changing event. In the 1780s, he went on to compose extensively, including several of the great operas for which he is still remembered. He composed The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute before his early death in 1791 at the age of 35. Getting fired was just what he needed to allow his creative genius to flow freely before his early demise.
From Trash to Treasure
If those seem like remote examples, there are a litany of recent examples of people, fired from jobs, who went on to have illustrious careers and do great things.
In the business world, automobile industry legend Lee Iacocca was fired from Ford Motor Company. After he graduated with a degree in Engineering from Princeton, Iacocca was hired as an engineer by Ford. There, he quickly showed he was better suited for sales, rising from Engineer to General Manager of the Ford division to a Vice President of the company. By 1970, he was President of Ford, but his brash, unorthodox manner led to his firing in 1978. However, Ford’s trash became Chrysler’s treasure. Later that year, Iacocca was hired as President of Chrysler, which was struggling with a huge inventory of low-mileage cars at a time of rising fuel prices. Facing bankruptcy, Iacocca was able to get Congress to guarantee $1.5 billion in loans to Chrysler and he raised an additional $2 billion in financing. He also trimmed operations, closed unproductive plants, and persuaded labor unions to accept layoffs and wage cuts. His brash style was just what Chrysler needed. The company then started manufacturing more fuel-efficient cars and aggressively marketing them. By 1981, Chrysler showed a small profit, and by 1984 the company announced record profits of more than $2.4 billion. Iacocca’s firing from Ford was a blessing for Chrysler (saving millions of jobs) and Iacocca became a national celebrity. He spent the rest of his career at Chrysler, and is revered as a business icon.
More Fortuitous Firings
Iacocca is just the tip of the iceberg of super successful business people who had a big career setback or was let go from a job. Mark Cuban — inventor, owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks, co-owner of 2929 Entertainment, Chairman of AXS TV, and a main “shark” investor on the ABC reality television series, Shark Tank — was fired from a job as a salesperson at a retail computer store in the 1980s. At the time, he was sleeping on the floor of a tiny apartment he was sharing with five roommates. His job paid $18,000 annually, plus commission. Cuban got an opportunity to close a $15,000 sale and earn a $1,500 commission, so he went to meet with the client and asked a coworker to cover for him. The coworker didn’t show up and the next day Cuban was fired. That experience made Cuban decide to never work for anyone else again. According to Cuban, “Sometimes you know a job isn’t right for you, but unless something traumatic changes the way you think, you might end up staying in a bad job.” By 1990, less than a decade later, Cuban sold MicroSolutions – his first company – to Compuserve for about $6 million, making him a millionaire at the age of 32. Getting fired was the best thing that probably could have happened to him.
Former NYC Mayor and Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg was let go after a leveraged buyout of the investment bank Salomon Brothers, where he was a partner. And, of course there is Apple founder Steve Jobs, who ironically lost his job at the very company he founded because his management style clashed with that of his own hand-picked CEO, John Sculley. About being fired Jobs once said, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” Of course, Jobs was rehired by Apple years later and made it one of the most successful companies in the world.
Walt Disney – American entrepreneur, animator, writer, voice actor and film producer — was fired as a cartoonist for the Kansas City Star newspaper early in his career. Disney was told he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Thanks to being let go, the man who had no good ideas became a pioneer of the American animation industry and introduced numerous developments in the production of cartoons. He acted in, produced, and directed over 1,000 movies and short films, holding to this day the record for most Academy Awards earned by an individual (22 Oscars from 59 nominations). He was presented with two Golden Globe Special Achievement Awards and an Emmy Award, among other honors. Several of his films are included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. And, he also founded the Disney mega-corporation that currently has a net worth of 5 Billion dollars. Good thing his boss was blind to Walt’s ingenuity and fired him.
Another example of someone who took a big hit to her career and bounced back was Carly Fiorina, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard and first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company. Joining HP in 1999, Fiorina’s tenure there was during what she called, “the worst technology recession in 25 years”; a time that required tough decisions. By 2005, she had lost the confidence of her Board of Directors for trying to effectuate change amidst deep resistance and was let go. Despite this setback, she went on to become active in politics, running for the Senate, serving as an advisor on John McCain’s presidential campaign, and then running for President in 2016. She then became Ted Cruz’ VP running mate for his presidential bid before he dropped out of the race.
Bad things happen, and from those bad things often much better things grow. If a major life setback can turn out to be such a good thing for so many, why does it feel like a catastrophe when it happens? Is there a way to lessen the blow? Yes, there is. Tune in next week, when we consider how one can use something as negative as a job termination as an invaluable learning experience and a springboard to success. Don’t miss it!
Quote of the Week
“There’s nothing wrong with being fired. It’s what you do after that that counts.” Ted Turner
© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.