Recall, my first book seeks to answer this question — what has being in business for life taught me about the business of life? The following excerpt was not an easy one to write. But, if one person finds solace in my story, it will have been worth the pain, because…
The road to humility is paved with humiliation
“Why are you so damned arrogant?” shouted my red-faced manager, slamming his notebook down on the coffee table between us. It was a fair question from my former sales partner, now my boss. I would soon find out why he was so frustrated with me. Twelve years my senior, unbeknownst to me, Don was fighting for my job behind the scenes. My thirty something arrogance wasn’t making it any easier. A few weeks later he came into my office to let me know he’d lost the battle.
It was the Thursday before Easter of 1989. As soon as Don walked through the door, I knew from the look on his face what he was about to tell me. “What’s up, Don?”
“It’s not good, brother.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…it’s not good. I couldn’t stop it. The President sent me here to tell you that your job has been eliminated.”
“You mean I’m fired.”
“Yeah”, he said forlornly, “you’re fired, Brad. I’m sorry.”
With that, one of my best friends in the world (then and now) stuffed a pink slip in my mouth and handed me my head on a platter. Though it wasn’t a complete surprise, it was completely devastating. Anyone who’s been there knows what I mean. To add insult to injury, they offered no severance and withheld my last paycheck.
A few years earlier, I received a letter from the CEO. He congratulated me on being named Salesman of the Year, saying how fortunate they were to have me on their team. Now, I was being ruthlessly terminated in absentia by his pompous hatchet man. Firings are never easy, but it is possible to carry them out without leaving employees feeling robbed of their dignity. A feeling I will never forget.
In fact, I really couldn’t forget it, so in a sincere effort to understand why I had been fired, I wrote the CEO requesting a meeting. Looking back, it was a naïve thing to do. It was effectively an engraved invitation to kick me while I was down. Kick me he did…hard. To this day, the cold-hearted and mean-spirited reply I received back from him remains the cruelest thing anyone’s ever done to me. I still have the letter as a reminder of the kind of person I never want to be and the kind of company I never intend to run.
Don was right. I was arrogant back in 1989, just before founding Ambassador Solutions on April Fool’s Day. Just before finding out in the hardest of ways that the road to humility is paved with humiliation. I can honestly say that I’m glad it happened. But for my humiliating termination experience, our first Core Value — Nurture the dignity of all people may have never been born. And, my message to the unemployed may never have been written. Both are deeply embedded into the DNA of our company and always will be.