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You’re The Expert, You Fire Him!

Steve and Ellen had three children: a daughter in New York, another daughter in California, and a son who had stayed around to work in the family company.

The couple ran a manufacturing company in Indiana started by the husband’s father.

Although he was in his nineties, the grandfather still came to the office every day (during the parts of the year when he wasn’t in Florida).

Like so many family businesses, there were three generations involved simultaneously. The problem? The successor: Steve and Ellen´s son, Stevie.

His attitude, now that his sisters had moved away, and since he had stayed in their home town and worked for the company, that it was natural that he take over the business, and it didn’t matter to him if he worked hard or not, because someday, it was all going to be his, anyhow. It was his birthright.

As you’ll see, however, the people involved in this story seem to believe that the purpose was patently obvious. It doesn’t need to be discussed. As a result, members of three generations of the family have quite different individual interpretations of what that purpose obviously is.

On my first visit to the business I found out exactly what that meant.

The nature of their industry created several times each year when the plant ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a month to six weeks at a time, to meet the demands they faced in a very competitive industry.

I happened to be there during one of those times. The son was supposed to be in charge of the factory floor and of one of the work shifts. Right in the middle of this busy time came a defining conflict for him, and for the business.

You see, Stevie was a baseball player. And his team, sponsored by the local bowling alley, was in their league’s championships. So on a day when he was supposed to be at the plant, running the line and managing a crew, he didn’t show up.

He just didn’t show up.

I talked to the grandfather, and to Steve and Ellen. They were all hard-working, hard-driving people. Real taskmasters because they had to be in order to build their business over the previous thirty years from nothing to something that supported the entire family in good form.

After meeting with them, I talked with Stevie and his wife, meeting their two small children, in their house, which was owned by the company.

It was definitely a comfortable setup: Stevie and his family lived for free, and he was paid very well. Far better, in fact, than he likely would have been paid
by anyone else, considering his attitude, his education, his interest, and his skill level.

Listening to him, I was astounded by his attitude. I told him very flatly that if he didn’t start paying attention to his responsibilities, and stop pushing his parents and grandfather to the limits of their patience, he was going to find himself out of a job, and out of the cozy environment he relished. Why he had taken this attitude was simply beyond me, but his response set the stage for what happened next.

“Wayne, I understand what you’re saying.”

Now, if anyone ever says that to you, it will mean exactly the same thing: He understood the words that were coming out of my mouth, but he was not going to change his behavior. It was as simple as that.

I conferred again with Steve and Ellen and the grandfather, who had a particularly close relationship with his grandson. Everyone said that they had talked to him, and that they hoped that he would snap out of it, pay attention, and get to work.

But his feeling of entitlement and hubris were so great that I didn’t hold out any hope that he would change his ways, and that somewhere down the line,
there was going to be a blowup.

Within a very short time, I got a call from Steve. He went into excruciating detail about all the things that had or had not happened, all the issues still
unresolved, even though we had all tried to make it as clear as possible that something had to give. He was at his wit’s end, and something needed to be done. I was, however, a little surprised at what he felt that course of action should be.

“You’re the expert,” he told me. “You need to come up here and fire him.”

And so I did.

I must say, it was a pretty unpleasant experience. After talking with Steve and Ellen, I went over to the Stevie’s house, and not only did I fire him on behalf of his mom and dad, but I had to tell him that he would have to get out of the company-owned house by the end of the month.

Steve had written a letter, which I presented to him, that made it very clear that if he didn’t move out, he would send the Sheriff to evict him.

Stevie was shocked. For that matter, the entire family was shocked. And I was relieved that it marked the end of my involvement in a truly distressing situation.

That was all they had wanted me to do: to fire their son.

It was about a year and a half later that someone told me that Ellen had passed away. I called Steve to pay my condolences, and we had a rather interesting conversation.

It seems that Stevie, after being fired from the family business and forced to move himself and his family out of their free lodgings, had finally gotten
the wake up call he had needed for so long.

Within a few months, he had started working with his grandfather on a side project, and eight months after he was fired, he had won his original job back. And with it, he had also won a lot of self-respect.

Six months after his reinstatement, he was really taking charge and managing his responsibilities.

Although Steve was still devastated by the loss of his wife, he was truly glad that she had been around to see her son make a comeback. She had seen him become the kind of success they had always hoped for.

Wayne Messick is an investigative reporter at

He is the author of dozens of articles for mainstream businesses, emerging professionals and association executives.