Throughout one’s professional life, there are many crossroads encountered. Some crossroads may be minor in nature while others may have significant implications on one’s career path and/or moral conviction. Although these decisions are typically the most difficult to make, the decisions made in these situations are true to character-defining moments.
Several years ago, I encountered probably my most dramatic professional crossroad. I held the position as Senior Vice President of Operations for a Mortgage Banker. I was hired by the CEO of the company who at the time I did not know personally but had a good reputation in the industry. Within my first year of employment, we not only grew production volumes but equally improved operational efficiencies and overall loan quality. Needless to say, I was surprised when I heard that the CEO decided to resign from his position with the company after I was there only 18 months.
Although I selfishly hated to see him leave the company, there seemingly appeared to be some growing friction between him and the Chairman. In addition, he had a great opportunity with one of the top-rated financial institutions. It was great to see his career advancement in a positive direction.
A few months later, I decided to reorganize the operational flow and physically move much of the operational personnel to the same side of the building housing the production staff. Within a few days of the move, I witnessed a frightening incident. It appeared that a Loan Officer was altering the stated income amount on a loan application.
Needless to say, a critical part of my responsibilities was managing the quality, integrity, and risk for the company. This raised immediate integrity, risk, and legal concerns. Since the Loan Officer technically fell under the reporting umbrella of the production manager, I could not personally reprimand the employee. However, I did immediately decline the loan in question as well as ordered an immediate audit of all loans originated by this particular Loan Officer.
Since the departing CEOs position had not yet been filled, at the time of the incident I reported directly to the Chairman. Therefore, I immediately informed the Chairman of the situation and the action which had been taken. In addition, I suggested a broader investigation to ensure that this was just the action of a single renegade Loan Officer and not a theme throughout the entire sales force. The Chairman thanked me for my quick action and stated that he would look into it further.
The following morning, I was summoned to the Chairman’s office. I assumed it was to further discuss the incident, the termination of the Loan Officer and to develop controls to prevent any possible re-occurrence. To my surprise…….already sitting in the office was the CFO along with the Chairman. I closed the door and sat down – at which point I was informed that I was being let go immediately. Confused, I asked for what reason? I was then informed that I no longer fit within the senior management team. I was then given an option.
It was well-known that my wife had some significant health issues within the prior two years. What wasn’t well-known (but known by them) was as a result of the mammoth medical bill, all savings had evaporated and the additional medical debt was suffocating. The option: (1) inform the staff that the work schedule and commute had become too difficult with my wife’s current state of health so I had decided to resign – they would pay me a month’s severance pay. Or, (2) do not make the resignation statement to the staff – I was terminated immediately with absolutely no severance.
The two were shocked when I informed them that I would some time to make my decision. I politely shook their hands and respectfully left the Chairman’s office. As I walked back to my office, I was conflicted with emotions – anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, and embarrassment.
Is there a way to save my job? Obviously, not. What is the reason for termination? In what way do I suddenly not fit the senior management team? Should I have ignored the potential fraud that was occurring? How am I going to provide for my family? So….this is what it feels like to be fired.
One day you drive home somewhat proud that you witnessed an unethical and potentially illegal activity and put an immediate stop to it. The next day the pride is gone and the humility of suddenly being unemployed takes over. If I would have known the ultimate outcome of the following day, would I have reacted to the incident in the exact same manner? Yes.
But, now what about the severance decision? Do I blatantly lie to my staff simply to receive 30 days of pay which my family desperately needs or do I gracefully accept my termination without making any misrepresentation to the staff and simply state the reason for my departure as given to me by the Chairman? Although the income was critical to my family, I would not knowingly misrepresent myself any more than I could have allowed the improper changing of a loan application.
Therefore with no money in our account and the medical bill collectors continuing to call, I went to the Chairman’s office and informed him that he would only be paying me through the day. I would not lie to the staff or myself. Ironically, he had already had accounting cut a 30-day check. He asked me to reconsider but ultimately he was forced to cut a new check.
As I drove home from the office, the emotions were once again overwhelming – especially the fear and anger. Anger in that I believed that I dealt with the situation in the most ethical manner, only to be rewarded by losing my job. Fear in that I was not in a financial position to be without employment and the typical timeframe for an individual at my corporate level to find employment averaged several months.
At this point, it became evident that I would need to bridge the financial gap between jobs. In addition, I needed to bridge this gap prior to arriving at home since the level of fear I had would only be amplified with my wife’s fear. My only option was to completely humble myself and call my father-in-law. Thank goodness I have a very loving and non-judgmental father-in-law. He gave me a loan without hesitation (which he reluctantly accepted my repayment within 6 months) which eased some of the pressure as I looked for new employment.
From an outsider’s perspective, it was a horrible experience and there was no reward for doing the morally and ethically right thing. I must admit; I initially shared this perspective. However, ultimately I was rewarded for my behavior. It just took a little longer than I would have liked.
I received a phone call a few weeks following my termination. The call was from the CEO who initially hired me. He heard about the situation leading up to my termination and shared with me that he too had an ethical conflict with the Chairman. As a result, he decided to actively network for new opportunities which eventually led to his resignation. He then offered me a position working for him again.
I have been asked; don’t you wish that you had never worked for that company? Actually, I am glad that I did. I was confronted with a significant character-defining challenge and I passed. If I never worked for the company, I would have never built a relationship with the CEO – who is probably the most honorable and ethical man that I have ever had the privilege to work with. It was also this man who reached out to me when I was in desperation and offered me a position. Within a year of his phone call, I was achieving the highest income earnings of my career and working in a corporate environment with the highest ethical standards.
Although it may have been the most challenging period of my professional life, upon reflection I am thankful. It helped define my character and it restored my faith in me and others. Often what may appear to be the worst times in life later prove to be the most important times of your life.
Husband, father, coffee connoisseur and lover of all things hockey. At 51 I sometimes wonder have I done enough. I have been married to my best friend for 30 years. She knows all my faults and loves me anyway, As a father of “almost always” perfect boys, I am always surprised at what life has to offer. It is messy, scary, thrilling, and always fun.