Losing job could be ‘the best thing’

Published 9:47 pm Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Being fired is shocking, especially when you’re blindsided.

Reading that International Paper plans to shut its Franklin plant, slashing about 1,100 jobs, reminded me of when I was brutally and unexpectedly fired in 2006.

It was at the end of the business day. My supervisor called me into his office. He began with light talk about politics and then suddenly the mood got heavy. He pulled out a manila envelope and coldly told me that I was done. No hint that there was a problem. No warning of things to come. No performance review. Just fired.

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Six months earlier I had purchased a house and relocated my family from another state to take the job. Like the plant workers who are shocked and fearful of being jobless next spring, that moment in my supervisor’s office tossed my family into a tailspin from which we are still recovering. But it is one of the best things that could’ve happened to me.

I coped and learned the hard way about the importance of having a personal succession plan.

It’s true that the recession has a lot to do with more than 5 million Americans losing their jobs since 2008 and unemployment reaching 9.5 percent. But the deeper reason is poor succession planning by businesses, governments and employees.

Succession planning is being focused on “what’s next” as much as on “what’s now.” When businesses constantly plan for the future, they roll with the downturns that are bound to come. They cultivate leaders, and encourage the rank and file to grow. Instead of being blindsided by decreased demands for their products, they adjust to market shifts and thrive.

Many companies have slashed jobs to boost profits because they can blame the recession. Published reports say the profit of International Paper, the world’s largest wood product company, more than doubled in the third quarter to $371 million, with the help of a $525-million federal alternative fuel tax credit. Even without the credit, International Paper made money, and the Franklin plant is one of its most profitable.

When government leaders are also focused on “what’s next,” they don’t allow their towns to be so heavily dependant on one employer or industry. Franklin, population 9,000, is like many small towns across America that developed around one or two big employers. Franklin’s identity has been wrapped in International Paper for generations.

Published reports say that Franklin, Isle of Wight, Suffolk, and Southampton and Sussex counties will lose $13.5 million in tax revenue when the plant closes. Supporting businesses, such as diners, auto shops and real estate could close. Now that the company says it is bolting, the plan is to beg it to stay and now scramble to attract new businesses?

The new economic realities make it vital that employees have personal succession plans. News reports have quoted plant workers saying that they’ve been at the plant for as long as 40 years doing the same job. Despite rumors, they didn’t see the shutdown coming. Generations of family members have worked at the plant.

Well, the era of devoting decades to a company and retiring with a fat pension is over. It’s more likely that a person will work for 10 or more companies during his or her career.

Your main company should be Me and My Family, Inc. Never remain complacent where you are. Learn new skills, keep growing and always stay focused on “what’s next.” Start your own business. Pursue that passion you’ve been dreaming about. Never let a job title define your identity.

I know the shock of workers who are wondering, “What now?” But being fired could inspire you to focus on your true life’s work. It can be a blessing in disguise.