Every Thanksgiving, the story of Maxwell Shearer (not his real name) comes to my mind. Maxwell Shearer was a man who worked for my father’s former company and who was fired the day before Thanksgiving. You make think to yourself, oh, what’s this? A man getting fired on the day before Thanksgiving? What kind of cruel company does that to a man, and what does he do to deserve it?
Try being a sweet talker who skated on the accomplishments of others. You do that, you get what you deserve.
Yes, my father’s former company that sold corn, soybean, and forage seeds to farmers, was a dysfunctional mess toward the end of his time there, but the story of how Maxwell Shearer was fired tops the list of bad stories from inside the company. Maxwell was hired back in the mid-eighties to run the company’s distribution plant in Iowa. For the most part, it appeared that Maxwell was a good manager. The small, worn-down plant ran a large amount of seed for its size and developed kind of a spartan-bunker mentality among the employees. That’s the first half of how Maxwell was able to keep his job for so long: he hired men who would work hard for hard work’s sake, and not care if there were being taken advantage of by a small man with power.
The other half of Maxwell’s long stay in his mid-level management: he knew how to play the higher-ups. He remembered birthdays, sent Christmas cards at the right times, and always asked about how their kids were doing in little league. His slick talk, coupled with the efficiency that the plant ran with, kept Maxwell in his position for nearly two decades. If it hadn’t been for the company’s poor management decisions and sales record, he might still be running that little plant, trying to slick talk to his retirement. But things above his head caused his downfall.
That year, the company’s sales were down, and the larger seed companies began approaching the grower-owners about selling their company. Slowly but surely, various people began to be let go, and finally Maxwell’s turn came. The decision came, and Maxwell’s boss and the company’s director of human resources drove out to central Iowa to hand Maxwell his pink slip the fourth Wednesday in Novemeber, their hearts cold as ice.
It just so happened the day before Thanksgiving, Maxwell had a tradition of making a large turkey dinner for the people, with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and of course pumpkin pie. It was Maxwell’s yearly tradition, his act of endearing his staff to him. And it was into this yearly tradition, firing committee arrived promptly at 10:00 A.M., the timing of the firing itself showing the company’s dysfunctional nature.
Maxwell’s boss and his accompanying doomsayer walked into Maxwell’s office and delivered the bad news: he was fired. Maxwell sat there in disbelief. Day before Thanksgiving, and he was out of the job he’d jockeyed for so long to keep. Like most people who are fired, he probably had no idea it was coming. There was one thing that remained: the Thanksgiving dinner.
His superiors allowed him to keep his tradition of serving his traditional Thanksgiving dinner to his staff, so he went home and got the things he’d prepared and served them to his employees for the final time. By then, all of them knew that their boss had been relieved of his duties. They went through the line, and Maxwell place the turkey and fixings on their plates. Many couldn’t even look their boss-no, their former boss-in the eyes, as he sat there ate his final meal with him. Meanwhile, the firing committee ate in the corner with the private rent-a-cops they’d brought with them for the event in case Maxwell went AWOL. (He didn’t, by the way.) After lunch, Maxwell Shearer packed up his office and left the little, worn down plant for the last time. His employees went back to work, running seed and bagging it for the spring, wondering if their company would be sold. (It was, by the way.)
So was the story of Maxwell Shearer, the man who was fired the day before Thanksgiving. As bad and as belittling a man as he was, he still didn’t desire to be fired that way. But when you behave like that, you make your own exit.