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The Flick and How To Get It

© 2001 Duncan Fry


Have you ever been fired, sacked, let go, given the boot, the flick, the bullet, the Tijuana Brass? There are not many people who haven't, at some stage of their working lives. I certainly have - I've been on the receiving end and I've also had dish it out as well, but only to people who truly deserved it.

And apart from any legal requirements, there's definitely a right and a wrong way to do it.

Keen readers of these stories (wherever you are) may remember that, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I once worked for a large multi-national record company.

Headquartered in Sydney, there was a regular turnover of sales staff and managers whenever low record sales threatened to interrupt the continuous flow of profits being shovelled into the gaping maw of the beast. It didn't matter what reasons there may have been for low sales - bad choice of artist and product being the main ones - the sales managers were always to blame, and they would be culled on a regular basis and replaced with fresh meat.

In the Victorian office, if there was to be a bloodletting in the sales manager department, the national sales manager would ring up to say he was coming down for a visit, and get the sales manager to pick him up from the airport. He would then deliver the bad news to him en route to the office, so that the two of them could have his resignation story ready to tell the troops later on that day.

As a method of delivering the bad news, it left a lot to be desired.

Just before I started work there, the unsuspecting sales manager had picked up the national sales manager from the airport and been given the heave ho on the drive down the freeway. Hmmm - bad move.

"You're sacking me? Oh my God - oh - oh - oh!" he gasped, and promptly had a heart attack and passed out. Totally out of control at about 120 kph, the car hit the barrier, flipped over, got rear-ended by a semi, and the two of them ended up in hospital for several weeks, at huge expense to the company since they both left with massive payouts!

From then on the system was modified; the (new) national sales manager would simply arrive unannounced at the office, having driven himself from the airport!

Up at head office, though, they had other problems. At the pressing plant there had been a spate of graffiti attacks, scrawling gratuitous remarks like "Jones is a shithead" "Jones roots chooks" "Jones has a smelly bum" etc. on the walls. Jones (not his real name but it will do) was the plant manager, a person who took himself very seriously, and instigated a thorough search for the culprit.

Most companies faced with this type of problem would put it down to normal Aussie larrikinism, order in some beers for the workers, and sit down to discuss any grievances they might have.

Not this company though. They jumped right in at the deep end and at great expense engaged a top handwriting expert from the USA to analyse the graffiti. He flew in, photographed it all, and then spent two weeks carefully comparing it to the writing on the whole staff's job application forms!

At the end of this time he returned with a name.

"This is your guy," he announced. "Unmistakable points of similarity."

The general manager was stunned. The name he had given them was the leading hand, someone who had been there twenty years, always been in on time, never taken a day off sick; in short, the best worker they had.

Still, he was the one the 'expert' had picked.

So they called him into the office, told him he was being retrenched as they no longer needed him. The legal department had said not to give the real reason as that could leave the door open to a court challenge, so they gave him his severance pay and waved him goodbye.

He promptly walked next door to XYZ records, got a job straight away at better pay, and poached another ten of the best people from our plant!

Not only that, but a week later the graffiti started to appear on the walls again, in the same handwriting! By then the 'expert' had flown back to the States and was somehow unavailable.

On the other hand, we had two reps who were working a scam. They would order a bunch of hot selling albums on a shop's account, intercept the order when it arrived at the warehouse, put it in the back of their cars, and sell the records off cheap for cash. Then they would do it all again.
It was perhaps a tad more proactive an enterprise than was legal, and as a business plan it had one fatal flaw - it could only last for 30 days, max! As soon as the shop got their statement for the month they would instantly see this giant amount of records they had never ordered had been invoiced to them, would phone up to complain, and the effluent would hit the air-conditioner in a big way. Which it did.

These two guys, both of whom had been with the company for a couple of years, stupidly risked their whole working futures on a scam that was guaranteed to be found out within a month! Talk about short-sighted. The decision was made to just get rid of them quickly and quietly; no-one at head office wanted anyone outside the company to know that their procedures were slack enough to let this sort of thing happen.
The sales manager was away on leave for a couple of weeks, and so as acting sales manager the firing was dropped into my lap.

Friday morning I called them into the office, went through the paper trail that led directly to them, and said "You bloody idiots! How long did you think you could get away with this?"

They shrugged their shoulders, mumbled and looked at the floor. What a pair of dickheads. I reminded them they were lucky not to be headed for a holiday at Club Pentridge, gave them their final payout cheques, took their car keys, and pushed them out the door.

On the way out, one of them turned to me.

"Do you think you could write me a reference?"

Well, look, I was going to finish the story right there but her indoors said it wasn't fair to leave out the time that I was sacked. I was hoping to spare myself the embarrassment, but she insists.

I once worked for an exhibition company, selling space in an exhibition of professional cleaning products. Not the most exciting of shows, and one that was extremely hard to get anyone interested in having a booth at.
Eventually the two bosses called me into the office.
"Dunk," the first one said, "We've come to a decision. We're going to let you go."
"Great, " I replied, poor naive fool that I was. "Where to?"

They looked at each other.

"No, " he continued, "We're letting you go!"
I still didn't get it.
"Yes," I smiled, "Whereabouts?"

Sensing they were getting nowhere fast with the subtle approach, the other one took over.
"Look," he said, "You're fired. Get it?"

Oh. Now I understood!

This story first appeared in Connections magazine

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