You just got fired, sacked, asked to resign. Not because you had your hand in the till. Maybe because you and your new boss didn’t see your job the same way. Perhaps you said “no” when the boss asked you hire his relative. Or you may not have met performance goals set for you. What to do now?
An involuntary departure is no fun, and gives one pause. Am I as good as I think I am? Do others see a flaw that I don’t? How hard will it be to find a new job? Here are three examples of people who took a tumble, then rose to new heights.
First, the late, legendary Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs and his co-founder, Steve Wozniak, grew Apple from a startup to a $2 billion company with more than 4,000 employees. And then Jobs was fired. As he wrote later, for a few months he didn’t know what to do. But he swung into gear and started NeXT and Pixar. In time he returned to Apple, and the rest is history. He went from getting fired to becoming by most accounts the most important entrepreneur in generations. “Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” he wrote. “It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
The second world-class leader is Jamie Dimon. Hired as a young man by Sandy Weil, the longtime chairman and CEO of Citigroup, Dimon climbed the corporate ladder, scoring one management success after another. He and was widely considered Weil’s heir. But several issues — including Dimon’s doubts about the qualifications of Mr. Weil’s daughter — led to Dimon’s departure from Citigroup at Weil’s request. Several years later, after moving back into the highest levels of banking, Dimon became chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase and is arguably the most distinguished and successful banking executive in our country.
On a less elevated plane is my story. I was president of a highly profitable division at CIGNA Corp., a 15-country international insurance operation. Shortly before I was given the assignment, CIGNA was created out of a merger between INA Corp. (my company) and Connecticut General (CG). CG gained control and over time forced out all the former INA senior line executives. Eventually my time came. Within a month I became president of New York Life’s international insurance division. I left later when a new chairman was no longer interested in overseas growth, and I had personality issues with my boss. I took other jobs — some better, some less so — but I always did quite well. Finally I joined AIG where I spent the last period of my management career. It was one of my best experiences, working and living in New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong, and working with top-caliber people.
While each story is different, there are some “teaching points,” especially for professionals on the way up.
- Have confidence in your worth and remain optimistic about the future.
- Work hard to find the next assignment. Try “lamp lighting”: when you have an interview with a colleague, friend or new acquaintance, never leave without asking the person to “light the lamp” for you for by recommending a name of someone else who may have a position and will be willing to hear your story.
- Consider job hunting a to be job. I friend of mine in the market got up every day, put on a suit, walked around the block, came in and treated his job hunt each day as a job. At day’s end, he walked around the block, took off his suit and spent the evening with his wife.
- Be prepared to take a lateral, even lesser position. A pal of mine who was ousted from a top Wall Street firm in the 2008 crash accepted a lesser job at a second-tier firm. There he excelled, received a big promotion and will be well positioned to return to a bigger firm when the economy strengthens.
There are few straight lines to the top in today’s business world. But a solid record, diligence, and luck (often defined as the “residue of hard work”) will get you where you want to be — which may be a far better place than you imagined.