It’s been a month since I left my laptop and iPhone on my desk, locked my office and walked out of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for the last time and into retirement. Since then, among other things, I’ve thought about my other workplace exits and how some were better than others.
This one was probably the best. I had it planned for several months so it came as no surprise to my boss, who had treated me royally. My wonderful team tossed me a great lunch, presented me with a basket of bourbon, signed each bottle, and produced several videos that absolutely blew me away ranging from heartfelt expressions of farewell, goodbye, thanks and hilarious wiseass comments–to a collection of outtakes from my standups that exposed me as more than fallible, and they even created a spoof of my infamous “April in the D” song with the words changed to “All Because of E.” It was very hard to keep it together viewing those videos knowing that short of an occasional lunch or drinks, after 11 years I wouldn’t be seeing my second family every day.
By the time my last day, July 29th, rolled around, I was spent from all the “goodbyes” and actually slipped out of the office with barely a word, swiped my badge for the last time, got in my car and called my wife, telling her “retirement as begun!”
But not every one of my employment exits was quite as, let’s say, smooth. There was the disastrous merger between Time Warner and AOL when I worked at CNN. We knew there would be layoffs but while I was at the Detroit Auto Show my boss took the time to page me (this was 2001) to let me know our bureau in Detroit would “not be touched.” Big relief! For 72 hours. A few days later I had returned from a shoot when my boss called me to let me know he was paying our bureau a visit the next day and that I should arrive and 9am and the rest of my staff should come an hour later. I was pretty obvious I was getting the boot. So I asked him what happened. “Oh,” changed our mind,” was his lame answer. I was pretty stunned and upset, then got it together spending the next few hour giving my staff the news, exchanging a few hugs, a few tears and then started gathering my stuff and put the past 20 years behind me. When the loser came in the next day to give me the official word and have me sign papers re my severance I asked again why the change of heart. He actually said, “now’s not the time.” Huh? Time had run out, and so did I.
When I left The Detroit News, it was to take the job that morphed into the one I held at FCA. The automaker was starting its first blog (2005) and the head of PR wanted an autowriter to manage and ghost write it for him. Cool job. I had been looking for work for a bit and six months prior had accepted a job at the rival Detroit Free Press but the News hated having their autowriters poached by the competition and gave me a huge raise to stay. So I did, but I still hated it there and kept looking. when the FCA job came through I jumped at it but never got a chance to give notice quite the way you should. While covering the annual auto industry conference in Traverse City, Mich., I called in a story we would be breaking, but I was flummoxed to find it wasn’t in the next day’s paper. That was the last straw for me after putting up with three years of what I thought was questionable and unethical editing decisions. What no one knew was that I had already sealed the deal on my new job so I had nothing to lose when I exploded in the media room at the conference, slamming down the phone and declaring, loud enough for all to hear, “screw it! I quit!” Of course it took only two breath’s time for that revelation to reach my boss back in Detroit who was not pleased to hear of my impending departure from a reporter at the Free Press. Oooops. They tossed me a goodbye thing anyway..maybe to make sure I was really leaving!
My favorite exit was from my part-time job as a stockboy/cashier at a department store on Long Island when I was in high school. Part of my duties was as the “bargain broadcaster,” announcing in-store sales from time-to-time as well as letting the shoppers know when the store was about to close. I shared the announcing duties with a friend who had a big, big voice. It was our last night on the job, and then we were headed Jones Beach to celebrate. But my friend and I were not what you would call “model employees.” He had been fired, twice, and I was laid off once. It was his turn in the booth to announce the impending closing of the store. He had to say, “Attention S. Klein shoppers. When you hear the bell, it means the store will close in 10 minutes. Please bring your purchases to the nearest cashier and check out.” Then the security guy named Bill would ring the bell. However, since it was our last night, my friend, whose name I am protecting, decided the announcement should be a little more, um, emphatic so he changed it. “Attention S. Klein shopper. When you hear the bell, it means the store will close in 10 minutes. Please bring your purchases to the nearest cashier and check out. SO BILL, RING THE EFFIN’ (he said the real word) BELL SO WE CAN ALL GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!” We hit the exit before security could propel us by our belt loops out onto the hot, asphalt parking lot.
What I learned over the years is no matter what the circumstances of your departure from a job, always leave on the best terms possible. In all cases, except for the department store thing, I made sure I shook the boss’s hand, left a nice, positive goodbye note to my co-workers and removed any rotting deli from my desk drawers.
We’ve enjoyed an unseasonably warm winter so far, but more powerful than El Nino, able to leap stationary fronts with a single low pressure system, able to bend the patience of steel-minded journalists…it’s the North American International Auto Show! That means snow is on the way, along with torrents of news and a deluge of drivable dreams under the Cobo canopy in downtown Detroit.
Truth be told there aren’t many surprises since the automakers generally give away the news in advance on an embargoed basis so their stories will show up in the morning papers. What’s left to wonder is what kind of swag awaits reporters who will do their best impressions of Ronda Rousey to fight for a free logo-embossed pretzel they can sell on eBay.
I worked the show for four different employers. I spent the longest time with CNN as the Detroit Bureau Chief. For a few consecutive years we produced special programs with the titles of “Route 1992, 1993, 1994, etc.” Production teams would traipse up from Atlanta and spend most of the week crabbing about the cold weather and the fact there wasn’t a Krystal burger joint in site. When one producer who had helmed a couple of these shows was finally re-assigned he got on his knees and..stayed there.
When I was the National Auto Writer for the Associated Press it was me against everyone. I thought I had a scoop when the then head of marketing for one automaker (I won’t say which because I work there) spilled the beans on a new incentive program. I later asked the CEO about that and his face got very red when he sputtered, “well he didn’t clear that with me!” “He” soon cleared out his office.
At the Detroit News, where I was the GM beat writer, I was told I had to come up with a lead story for the next day. We were in one of those hated group sessions with the GM CEO. No one was getting anything so I pulled the trigger asking him to react to the fact that Toyota would soon overtake the automaker as number one in sales. Let’s just say he became very unhappy, but coughed up the quote and I made my nut for that day.
Now that I work for an automaker, my main job is to make sure our stuff wins coverage, particularly from broadcast and digital media. It’s fascinating to be on the other side of the battle lines. I’ve come to appreciate the skills professional PR people need to hone to do their jobs properly, although as a former reporter, I can’t help telling a reporter who asks if they can get an interview regarding the new “Chrysler Impala” the view must be very dark inside their hindquarters.
Indeed, I look forward to the most important auto show of the year…seeing old friends, eating new shrimp and smiling at the nice young ladies offering mints as I tell them, “No thanks. I’ve breathed my last breath.”