How to fire a friend

I’ve been fired several times.

You're fired!

You’re fired!

It’s not unusual, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a vile excrescence, worth only the ordure of a couple of sub-Saharan camels.

But have you ever had to fire a friend? Someone you have known since school, whose family is very friendly with yours, the children going to the same school, the wives lunching together, you and the person you have to fire playing squash together and you always beating him, and the occasional shared Christmas?

I have had this situation.

The man had to go. I hadn’t fallen out with him, but we were working in a small advertising agency, and he didn’t seem to understand that his big advertising agency background of  long lunches and lofty attitudes to clients and staff needed to be ditched. Another thing which annoyed me was that most people who are about to get fired know that they are facing the chop, but he clearly thought everything was lovely. It wasn’t.

What to do?

The UK’s employment laws would not help.

Giving him a first warning and then a second warning was not going to be constructive. Further, I couldn’t hide since I was Client Service Director. This was definitely my problem, squirm and wriggle though I did.

One of the reasons for agencies having a Client Service Director is to protect the Managing Director. Let’s call them the CSD and the MD.

The CSD does all the nasty stuff whilst the MD hands out the nice stuff: pay rises and promotions. If you aspire to being a Client Service Director, ask yourself why the ones you know have a haunted look about them. They know where the bodies are buried. The MD does not know, neither does he nor she want to know.

Bugger. What to do? Well, it seemed time for me to have lunch, too.

I went to see a greatly admired advertising head- hunter in London. We met for a meal at The Four Lanterns in Cleveland Street for what I thought was going to be a very painful lunch. For the sake of argument, we’ll call her Eva. We’ll call the chap who had to go Fule.

Me: Fule’s got to go. How am I going to explain this to my wife? The school runs will never be the same.

Eva: Give me his cv* and I’ll sort it out.

Me: His cv is not sufficiently thick for you to be able to club him to death with it. I know. I’ve checked. The thought had crossed my mind.

Eva: I’ll find him another job. He’ll never know we’ve spoken. He’ll go to a big agency, and get a big pay rise in the process. I promise that Fule will never know that we spoke. He’ll feel slightly guilty about leaving you, his chum, but he has a family to provide for. You’ll never have to fire him. The agency won’t have to pay him any redundancy money. All you have to do is to accept graciously his resignation and to tell him that there will always be a place in your agency should he change his mind. And, erm, I’ll make money out of this.

Eva did exactly what she promised. Within a month, Fule was on his way to McCann.

I was happy. Fule was happy. Eva was happy. Everyone parted the best of friends.

We’re still friends. Fule and I don’t see each other as often as we did, since both families have moved houses and cities. Neither of us are in advertising any longer. Enough details have been changed for him not to recognise himself  here. I have no reason to want to wound him. He was simply in the wrong sort of agency.

Years ago, I was working on Crest Toothpaste for Procter and Gamble at Y&R. My boss, Peter Davies, and I were standing at the bar of the departure lounge at Newcastle airport. A chap shambled up to us. Peter grabbed his hand, asked him how he was, bought him a large gin and tonic and asked him how the job hunt was going.

Later, once we were airborne in an old Dan Air BAC 1-11, Peter said, “I interviewed him for a job in London a couple of weeks ago. He’s bonkers, possibly a psychopath.”

“Why were you so chummy?”

“You have to let people keep their dignity,” Peter replied.


* CV = Resume