The Firing

The Firing

pink slip laid off reorganized re-org’d axed downsized booted right-sized
dismissed canned thrown out let go terminated given notice ‘termed walking papers

All these expressions tossed in the minds of the little group gathered in the conference room that day at Miraculous Technology. The words bounced around like ping pong balls in their heads, but truly all they really heard were the very clear and simple words of their CEO, Henry Kimball…

“She’s got to go.”

Kimball said it without emotion, without feeling, without looking at any one of the four individuals seated at the gleaming walnut conference table.

Then he got up and walked out.

The little group looked at each other. They looked down at the floor. They blinked.  Jim Spencer, the VP of Operations, coughed dryly. Margaret Thomas, the CFO, sipped at an empty cup of coffee.  Robert Tims, the top sales guy, ran his fingers through his hair, then checked to see if any of the gel he had applied that morning had stuck to his fingers. And Virginia ‘Ginny’ Morris, the VP of Human Resources grabbed one of the chocolate donuts Kimball had brought in for the meeting. They looked at each other again. Then looked away.

They all knew who she was. The only question was who was going to do it. No one wanted to do it. No one wanted to say it.

“Sounds like an HR thing to me,” commented Spencer, eyeing Ginny Morris. Spencer had come over to Miraculous from the steel industry. He liked to think, as he often said, that he was ‘all business’.

“HR? It’s not my decision,” Ginny retorted, tearing off a chunk of donut. The HR-VP was younger than the rest of them, and pretty too, which they resented, except for Tims. Unlike the others, she had an advanced degree, an MBA from an institution that existed only in cyberspace. She had discharged employees before, but it had always been for something obvious like stealing or gross absenteeism, in other words, for cause, so it had been fairly painless. But this was different.

“We need a reason, or something,” complained Tims, picking at his nails. He had never had any career except sales. He had sold cars, carpeting, pharmaceuticals, and swimming pools, but the Vice President -Sales had never really had any direct reports except other salesmen. And to meet that responsibility, Tims just yelled at them. “How about the financials?” he said to Margaret Thomas, the finance guru.

“What about them?” she grumbled. The CFO didn’t like being on the Executive Team or, rather, she didn’t like anyone else being on the Team except her and Mr. Kimball.  She figured all that the CEO or anyone else needed to know about Miraculous Technology was laid out nicely in the spreadsheets she managed.

“Maybe some kind of justifica…”

“It’s not there. There’s nothing in the financials. You want me to make something up?” she demanded. Tims grimaced.

“Well, we have before,” countered Spencer. He liked to think he was The Leader when Kimball was away. He was in fact older than the others, but no one really paid much attention to him.

“That’s the way Hank wanted it done,” Margaret retorted. This silenced them. She was the only one who called Kimball by his nickname. They went back a long ways.

But they all understood why she had to go: Mr. Kimball said so. It was time to shake things up, according to the CEO. ‘Time for some changes, he declared. ‘Time for some new thinking, he intoned. Then, he had been preaching something about ‘Good to Great’ or ‘Great to Good’ or ‘Average to Better to Fabulous,’ or ‘Worse to Better,’ or whatever, ever since the last management retreat. No one quite understood it. But they knew Maryanne Nelson, head of Marketing, had to go, and she was conveniently home sick today with a stuffy head. They could hatch their little plot unnoticed.

“Got … to … go,” Ginny Morris mumbled with a mouth half full of donut, like she was afraid to say it clearly. No matter how much she ate, it didn’t affect her youthful figure. A few years, a few more donuts will change that, Margaret Thomas reflected.

“Tims? How about you?” Spencer asked. “Marketing is part of Sales, right?”

“Could be, but it ain’t,” he replied. “Besides she’s been here a lot longer than me. It would look weird.” Maryanne Nelson had, in fact, been at Miraculous Technology longer than most anyone except Kimball himself. Tims thought about the words he might use to give Maryanne the bad news. He ran his fingers through his hair again as if he might find the words there. He didn’t. Tims was more comfortable pitching a million dollar sale to a customer. That he could control. There people would listen. But this was different.

“Well, it needs to be soon,” Spencer explained. They all looked out the window of the conference room at the manicured lawn of their corporate campus. They wondered who would fire Maryanne, but what they really wondered was why Kimball wouldn’t do it himself. “Mr. Kimball…”

“We heard him,” Margaret Thomas snapped. They all rose awkwardly and left the room. No one worked late that day. The weather was nice. They went home to their families, their golf, their drinks, their dinners, their TV – but they didn’t sleep well.

The next day each member of the Executive Team tried to stay busy or look busy. They avoided each other. They avoided Maryanne Nelson, who returned to work that day, feeling better. Spencer dove into some paperwork and thought about running his own company. ‘Something about management coaching would be good, he dreamed. Ginny Morris spent a few minutes reviewing the new company drug policy, and the rest of the morning shopping online at Margaret Thomas totted up the revenue, and then made appointments to get her hair and nails done, even her toenails. Tims scheduled a sales call for later that day, and spent the rest of the morning flirting with the women in the call center.

Kimball finally showed up about eleven. He strolled from office to office, glaring at his department heads with a sullen leer. Margaret Thomas exclaimed, “We’re gonna make target!” Spencer announced, “The new production line is firing on all cylinders!” Tims said “I’m meeting today with that big account!” And Ginny Morris reported dutifully the new drug policy looked “Bullet proof.”

The CEO answered them with a stony silence. He just looked at them hard, with a smirk thrown in. They all either looked down at their feet or stared at him blankly. When he saw Maryanne Nelson in the hallway later that morning, he said “’Morning. ‘Glad to have you back.” Then he retreated into his suite adjoining the conference room and locked the door.

A few hours later, Jim Spencer crept out into the hallway. He saw Maryanne Nelson and bid her a good morning. “Head feeling better?” he asked, then walked away toward the CFO’s office. Her door was open.

“You got a plan together?” Margaret demanded before he could speak. She knew Spencer thought himself Number Two in the company, after Kimball, but no one, including Kimball had ever made that quite clear. “What‘re you gonna do about it? Have you seen Hank today?” Spencer never called Mr. Kimball ‘Hank’. “He was here a minute ago, asking about Maryanne.” Spencer opened his mouth but no words came out. He stumbled back into the hallway, dazed. Tims popped out of the Call Center, the sound of feminine giggles following him into the hallway.

“Well, well …what’s up with Marketing?” Spencer asked, gathering himself. He straightened the large knot in tie. He was the only man who wore a tie at Miraculous.

“Sales.” Tims corrected him.

“Did you guys ever get that website stuff figured out? ‘Cant miss that wave!” Spencer continued. Tims had started the website project, but he hated it and got Maryanne to take over. She did a great job with it. Spencer, however, was hoping she’d fail. Then they could let her go, and make Tims look bad too. Spencer never trusted the Sales VP. To him, sales wasn’t legitimate work. Operations, his people, did all the real work. Sales just gathered up the commissions.

“’Getting plenty of traffic. ‘Lots of hits,” Tims explained. Spencer grunted. He wasn’t quite sure exactly what a ‘hit’ was.

“Well, we gotta do something,” he replied, looking for support. Tims shrugged his shoulders. Spencer brushed by, throwing a sharp glance back at him. “Something!” he snapped.  Tims re-entered the Call Center to the sound of giggling. Spencer got back to his office, feeling worse than when he left a few minutes before. He checked his Inbox. There sat a message from Kimball. When the CEO was upset, he just filled in the Subject: line. And there it was, Subject: “Well?” Spencer winced.

The day dragged on. The air conditioning roared but the office grew warm in the August afternoon. Maryanne Nelson wondered for a moment why no one had stopped by to chat. Nonetheless, she went about her duties, unaware of the plot hatching around her. She worked on the website. She was presenting it to the Executive Team at two o’clock.

About one thirty, Mr. Kimball emerged from his suite, looking mad, waving a paper in his hand. He marched into Ginny Morris’s office.

“Have you seen this?!” he demanded. He threw the paper on her desk.

“Uh…uh…yes…certainly…no…maybe …what?” the young woman stammered, clicking away from She just missed a 10% off sale that was expiring at that moment.

“Well, you signed off on it,” Kimball declared. Ginny picked up the paper: a Vacation Approval Form, submitted by Maryanne Nelson.

“Uh, well, Sir, yes I did. That was a week ago and I didn’t know then about…that we planned to let Maryanne ….”

“Just fix it,” he demanded.

“OK. Definitely, sir.’ Right away.” Kimball frowned and glided away on the plush carpet. Ginny picked up the phone and dialed Margaret Thomas, seeking help.

“You’re approving vacation for people who are leaving??!!” the CFO hissed into the phone. Margaret Thomas had spent many years rising to her position at Miraculous, many long nights sitting up with Kimball straightening out the books. She was jealous of Ginny Morris, who’d made the Executive Team after only two years. And then, Ginny was young and pretty and stayed in great shape because she was single and had time to work out at the gym, or the club as she liked to say. (Kimball liked Ginny too, though he referred to her as a ‘useful idiot,’ behind her back.) Margaret smoothed her hands over her own ample figure. No getting around it, she thought, I’m stout. Three kids and a few decades behind a desk will do it to anyone she reflected, but it didn’t help her appreciate her colleague in HR any better.

“I didn’t know about Maryanne when I signed these,” Ginny whined. “And now Kimball wants me to fix it.” Margaret was silent. She knew Ginny was stuck. They were all stuck. “Maybe you can come up with something? How about…there’s just no room in the budget, right? Right? Something like that …”

“Let me think!” Margaret answered, and hung up. She stared out the window. She wanted to call someone to help, but she didn’t trust anyone. She thought about her sister Alice, who worked at a really big company where they had a mentoring program. That’s what I need, Margaret thought, a mentor. But who would mentor me, she wondered? Kimball? She stared out the window again. A solitary man with a leaf blower worked the sidewalk in the distance.

At two pm the members of the Executive Team dragged themselves into the conference room. Maryanne Nelson was already there with a projector. Spencer sat down at the head of the table, like he belonged there, then grew anxious and moved to the side. Ginny Morris refused the table, and propped herself against the wall with her laptop. Margaret Thomas brought an armful of spreadsheets to review. Tims came in late with a cup of strong coffee and slumped into a chair and yawned.

“Where’s Mr. Kimball?” someone asked.  They all fidgeted. They knew Kimball might show up, he might not. His door was closed, and no one dared knock, so Maryanne plunged in. She had worked hard on the presentation. It was well organized. It was thoughtful. It showed her in a good light. Spencer pretended to be listening, and asked a few questions about ‘hits’. Tims couldn’t understand why Miraculous needed to be fooling with the Internet anyway. Margaret Thomas scribbled something that looked important on a big sheet of numbers. Ginny Morris bought a pair of shoes at

At the end of the presentation, Maryanne beamed. The new website looked nice and professional.  Traffic was up, hits were up. Everyone thanked her. She thanked them, then apologized: she had to rush and present to the West Coast office via conference call. She left them.

The little fan in the projector continued to whirr for a very long minute after Maryanne’s exit. Then it stopped. Then it was quiet. Margaret looked up from her numbers. Tims rubbed his eyes. Spencer drummed his fingers on the table. Ginny Morris closed her laptop. It was all in slow motion, like an hour passed in the warm room.

“OK, I’ll do it.” Spencer whispered, like he was trying to speak up but couldn’t. No one spoke. He said it again, louder “I’ll do it.” They didn’t want Spencer doing it, but they didn’t want to volunteer either. “What are you going to say?” Tims asked. “When are you going to do it?” Margaret inquired.  “Does HR have to be there?” Ginny wondered out loud.

“I’ll just tell her we’ve decided to move in a new direction,” Spencer offered. “What direction?” Tims asked. “Who decided?” Margaret wanted to know. “I can’t put that in the HR file,” Ginny exclaimed.