Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Friday, January 21, 2011

How Not to Find Out You Are Out of a Job

Yesterday my press credentials came through for the Chicago Auto Show in February. Nissan has seen fit to include me among the guests it will bring in for the event. I fly there two days after I return from Hong Kong; if indeed I do return from Hong Kong. My sister and others have expressed their doubts.

Historically my favorite among the larger auto shows, Chicago isn't the overwhelming, chaos-riddled, logistical mess that is the Detroit show. New York City puts on a good show, but you have to go to, well, NYC for it. I'm not a fan. I judge a location by whether I would spend my own cash to go there. I've been to NYC at least 10 times and have never spent a nickle of my own money on a trip. I am told it has many wonderful qualities; and I even agree, in part, but it's just not where I want to vacation. However, I am always open to going there on someone else's dime, for the auto show or any other reason. I'm not stupid.

My last trip to the Chicago Auto Show was in 2004. I don't even have to think about the year. It is burned into my memory. Why? you might query. Because it was at the 2004 Chicago Auto Show when I first learned that my replacement had been hired as editor in chief of the two auto magazines I was running at the time.

My editor-in-chief role was temporary. When my buddy, the editor in chief who hired me, saw the writing on the wall and returned to the Miami Herald, the mantle of leadership fell to me as the managing editor. Originally it was to be a permanent appointment (well, as permanent as any editor-in-chief job is in that organization), but when I was low-balled on the salary, I turned the job down. There was no way I was going to deal with the nut-job CEO on a regular basis for a mere 10 grand more than I was already making. At that point I became "acting editor in chief."

My situation became even more precarious when, before the first issue for which I was responsible had even gone to the printer, I was called into the CEO's office for a pow-wow. Forty-five minutes later, covered in his spittle, my ears ringing from his pounding on his desk, I staggered out of his office suite convinced that my days at that company were numbered. This is a guy not used to hearing the word, no. I had turned down the job and was, thereafter, a marked man.

I returned to my desk and recounted the episode to the staff, advising them to polish up their resumes. With my former boss at the helm, we had no idea of the behind-the-scenes drama. He did a superb job of insulating us from the politics. My first one-on-one encounter with the CEO was an eye-opening experience. We all knew he was a tyrant, but until that meeting, I had no clue he was stark-raving mad.

For two or three months preceding the Chicago show in 2004, I had friends at other auto publications call to tell me they had been approached to take the job and had either refused the interview or turned down the job offer. I was aware that the wheels were in motion. Still, it's quite a shock to find out you are out of a job by having an industry peer, with whom you were only mildly acquainted, walk up and say, "Dude, tough break about the job; so what are you going to do?"

No one could ever accuse this organization of being professional. Its human resource director, who spent 80% of his time laying off or firing people and was therefore known around the company as "the Prince of Darkness," and the CEO, whose combined intellect couldn't generate enough brain power to make a sparrow fly, had not considered that I was attending the Chicago show and the cat might be out of the bag.

The phone in my hotel room rang that evening. It was the human resource director apologizing for my finding out that way. He promised a meeting with me and the staff as soon as we were all back in the office together. By this time our little staff had bonded together like so many survivors adrift for weeks in a lifeboat. It had been three months since I had taken over. It had been a roller-coaster ride where each day could prove to be our last. We remained on staff for another 90 days as the company moved the auto magazines to Detroit. None of us made the transition.

Am I looking forward to the Chicago show this year? Yes, I am. I think I will enjoy it a lot more than the last time I was there.

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