CEOs Who Lost Their Jobs Talk About What Went Wrong

Fortune’s new article “Lessons of the fall” is interesting and entertaining for two reasons. First, it humanizes brings a human face to the usually remote CEO, in this case the exes at Motorola, Starbucks, and Jet Blue. But more important if you’re a wage slave who can admit to a little schadenfreude, it describes how each man was fired from his job. Former Starbucks CEO Jim Donald, who’s in his fifties, says the hardest thing was letting his mother know:

First phone call was to my mom. Probably the toughest day I’ve ever faced, ever. Ever, ever, ever! Because moms have a way of putting their sons up on pedestals. I said, “Mom, how are you?” And she goes, “Great. Why are you calling me at ten in the morning?” I just said, “Hey, I just want to tell you, I’m not with Starbucks anymore, but everything is fine.”

The three men also talk about the big blunders that happened on their respective watches—Donald says he should have expanded Starbucks internationally faster to offset the plunging U.S. economy, while JetBlue’s David Neeleman says it was the infamous, icy Valentine’s Day 2007 when passengers sat trapped on tarmacs as thousands of JetBlue flights were canceled.

I think on the PR side, we did it right. I’ve always learned, if you make a mistake, you admit to it. You explain what happened. And then you explain how it’s never going to happen again and what you’re doing to make sure it doesn’t. It’s a very simple formula, I think. But really there were two events: the stranding of people on airplanes, which was absolutely inexcusable. Then there was the lingering on—how it took us three, four days to get all our flights back in the air. We learned our lessons from that.

[Later] a couple of board members came to my office and said, basically, “We want you to step down as CEO and be the chairman and be responsible for strategy.” I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it. Just the fact that I was flabbergasted – either I’m the biggest idiot on the planet or maybe the process could have been better.

“Lessons of the fall” [Fortune]
(Photo: Getty)