Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ten Of The Worst Firings I Remember

I wrote last week about how companies humiliate employees being let go.  It reminded me that I have been keeping a mental list of horror stories I have heard about how companies terminate employees,  I thought I would share the top ten list.  Some are far worse than others.  Some are almost unbelievable, but all of them have happened.  The couple of examples I used in last week's post really belong on this list, but they would be redundant. 

·        1) An American who was a worldwide account director and always traveling abroad was fired by telegram while he was in Warsaw, Poland.  He had to tell both his client and his agency why he couldn’t attend the scheduled meeting.

·        2)  An Assistant Account Executive was fired on his third day of work after leaving a secure job.  The agency had lost a major account on the day he started.  The deed was done by an unknown HR person. When his group head (who was not given the courtesy of being told) confronted the HR Director, she was told, “Why not?  We decided that last in first out.”  When the group supervisor responded that she had other account people in her group who deserved to be let go, the supervisor was told to mind her own business. The assistant account executive left the business. 

·      3)  A young Account Executive had the misfortune of coming in early. The chairman of the agency asked to see the results of a copy test which had come in the previous evening and was due to be presented to the client later that day.  The chairman did not like the scores and asked the account person to change them and make up new numbers.  The AE was taken aback and was not sure what to do; he decided to wait for his supervisor to come in; twenty minutes later, the chairman asked to see his revisions.  When the AE told the boss he was waiting for his supervisor, he was immediately let go for insubordination.

·        4) A very senior media executive was allowed to fly to Detroit on business.  Her company knew they were going to let her go.  After spending the night in a hotel, at 8:30am she was called by her boss and HR and terminated and told not to attend the meeting; it was a mass termination.

·       5) There was a president who was taken out to an elaborate dinner at The Four Seasons with his wife. The sumptuous meal was accompanied by an extraordinary and expensive wine.  The next morning he was fired and told that the dinner replaced severance (he had no contract).

·        6)  I know of at least one senior executive who was terminated by phone while on vacation with his family.

·       7) There was the son of a well-known ad agency president who was let go on his first day of work because the person who hired the son had no idea that the agency had a policy of not hiring the relatives of other agency principals.

          8) A senior vice president was fired while her children were in the office – remarkably, it was “bring your kids to work” day.

·        9)  There was a new, well known EVP who was short.  On his first day of work, he was confronted by another employee and asked how he felt about being the oldest person at the agency.  The new EVP replied, “Not nearly as bad as being the shortest.”  He was let go about twenty minutes later.

10) An Executive Vice President was presenting her first brand review to her new agency president. She ran the largest account at her agency, one of the biggest in the country.  He kept asking her what the point was of what she was saying.  Ten minutes into her presentation, he fired her telling her that she was boring him and her client. It ws clear he knew he was going to do this before she started.

Each of these terminations have one thing in common:  All the people who were let go were totally surprised.  No company should do that to an employee of any tenure – a day, a week or several years.
Years ago, when people were let go, they were routinely given use of an office for a period of time to make the transition more palatable.  Most people only used the office for a week or two.   It was a far nicer system until the lawyers took over and changed the system.  I actually previously wrote about courtesy to employees being terminated.


  1. And this in a business where people are the only real assets. Although I guess today data assets are becoming key as well.

  2. I was freelancing at Backer & Spielvogel for Norman Tanen when I was asked to see the Creative Department Manager. My thought was that they were finally (after a year-and-a-half of full-time freelance) going to put me on staff. Instead, I was handed a severance check and told to leave the building by 5pm. I went back to my office where Norman asked me what was wrong. When I told him, he said, "They can't do that - you work for me. If anyone's going to fire you it should be me." ("Oh, swell, Norman,' I thought, "That's comforting.") Norman goes charging down the hall to confront the Creative Services Manager. About 15 minutes he comes back. They fired him, too.

  3. This has changed how I feel about loyalty to companies. I was laid off from Y&R a couple years ago, along with a bunch of other people. They had boxes for us all behind a velvet curtain in the coat room, and who knows how long those boxes had been there. Since it's open concept, we all had to pack our things in front of all the other shocked and silent employees.

    About a year later, I was freelancing for a sister agency in the building. They weren't paying me much and wouldn't commit to more than a week or so of work. I was called back to another agency that was paying me a much better rate, used me long term, and there was the prospect of full time on the table. I nicely told the Y&R agency that I had a better offer and needed to leave.

    The recruiter was shocked and not very nice about it. I felt guilty for about 2 minutes. Agencies hand their employees a box and say "leave now." Why shouldn't I be looking out for my own self interest? This thing works both ways.

  4. Great stories. Great post. One thing they don't teach you in school is how to fire people and not be an asshole about it. They really should.

  5. Unfortunately, most of us learn either from our own experiences or from others. Because it often happens so badly, many people actually think it is okay to be cruel.

  6. I know a very senior level agency guy, now a top client-side global marketing exec for a worldwide corporate brand that everyone knows, who was, after a very careful agency search, summarily fired after his first day at work. Can only imagine what might have transpired, but the starkest outcome I’ve ever heard of. Would love to have been “a fly” in that room.

    1. Well, obviously, there was a disconnect somewhere. Would love to know what could possibly have gone wrong on day one. If you ever find out, let me know.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

Creative Commons License