I have a duck

Why do I keep the duck? It's not a live duck, it's a painted plaster duck, so no care and feeding required. But it's old and faded from years in the garden through snow and rain then beside the bathtub or on a bookshelf. It's not attractive but it's a frequent reminder to be humble in my business decisions.

The duck was a Christmas gift exchange from a computer technician who worked for me in my first entrepreneurial venture, TTX Computer Products. He was also the first employee I had to fire. Not because of the duck.

It was a classic business slowdown in the early '90's and forced me to look at downsizing my staff. "Laid off due to economic circumstances" may sound better to the individual and look better on his resumé, but it was still a difficult and painful decision. Especially as I had made the committment to never fire anyone in my own company after having lived through the slow decline and never-ending terminations at AES Data right up to my own "departure" a few years earlier.

But I came to realize that the best way to protect the company and the other jobs was to accept the inevitable and reduce costs by lowering the most significant variable expense - staff levels. As a senior executive from AES assured me, "the only way to avoid ever firing anybody is to make perfect hiring decisions, and nobody is that smart".

And he was right. It was also not the last time for me to have people fired, laid off, or terminated and it never gets easier.

I wonder if those CEOs deciding to cut back by 10,000 or 30,000 people take it as personally. Do they actually sit face-to-face with any of those individuals and worry with them about their futures?

It has to be one of the toughest challenges for any entrepreneur or executive. And still a worthy objective to try and avoid any firings. So hire as "perfectly" as you can, then manage well enough to avoid those "economic circumstances" that lead to downsizing.

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