In my last story, (link), I had gotten a promotion to Store Manager at the Hamilton Taco Bell and was told that I was the second youngest store manager in the Taco Bell network at the time. My Supervisor, (Larry), had very quickly given me lots of autonomy and lots of authority.
It was late 1978 and Larry had placed me into an elevated role of a “training manager”, telling the other manager trainees, (sometimes twice my age), to do “whatever Rob says”, even giving me authority to sign his name for him when needed (I had mastered his writing style, even if I do say so myself). I staffed and trained several of the new stores in the area while my assistants helped to keep my store in line. What did I know? I just thought this was how things went. In retrospect, I was moving very fast – too fast.
Keep in mind now, I wasn’t even 21 yet. In this short period of about 9 months, I had helped staff, train and open 4 new restaurants and had even gotten 2-3 of my own hourly employees promoted into management positions. Meanwhile, my Hamilton store continued to flourish and grow in volume, so much so that I needed a second assistant manager. Larry and I had discussed this a few times and he had given me a verbal approval to move forward with the next promotion. We had done this before and in my mind, once again I assumed it was all a done deal so like the previous promoted assistant, I processed the paperwork, signing Larry’s name to the promotion.
I never brought up the topic again since it was a ‘done deal’ in my mind and a few weeks went by when Larry called me one day.
Larry – Rob, did you promote Rafael already?
Me – uh, sure Larry, why?
Larry – I thought I told you to hold off? My District Manager called me, asking if I’d placed in two assistant managers in Hamilton. I’ll see you first thing in the morning.
Hmm…..this didn’t sound good, in fact it sounded bad. Had I finally gone too far and gotten Larry, (and myself), into trouble somehow?
I got the answer the next morning when Larry showed up, with another manager in tow. We went out to the dining room to sit at a table before the store opened. Larry was shaking a bit and actually had a tear in his eye as he began speaking. He told me his manager wanted me fired. Larry had not told him the details of our relationship and the authority he had given me. All the DM saw was a cocky young kid who had forged his regional manager’s name to a promotion.
Oddly, I wasn’t scared. As Larry was talking, trying to figure out what to do or how to get out of this predicament without somehow letting me go, I began to see a solution. It was one of the most pivotal moments in my short career, but as I sat there watching this grown man struggle with this situation, I saw it as a sign. When he said, “I just can’t fire you”, I quickly replied – “you have to”.
He just stared at me in disbelief. I told him that I really wanted to find a job “where I could get office experience” and could go to night school to get a degree. I remember saying, “maybe this is a sign, Larry”. So we sat there and hashed out the details. He was going to write up an official termination, but he was going to get me vacation pay and the greatest amount of severance he could negotiate. I signed off on a termination and we even hugged when we got up from the table.
True to his word, in just a short week I received two checks in the mail, (no auto deposit back then). One was a full two months’ salary and the other was listed as 4 weeks “vacation”. I didn’t even know I had vacation pay. Larry phoned me once afterwards to tell me to use him as a reference for any job I might apply for and I even stopped in on him a week later just to say hi. Jobs were very prevalent back in January of 1979 and within just two weeks I had managed to stumble into an offer for a clerk position with the HP Deuscher Foundry, a place I didn’t even know existed in my own hometown. (Link)
I had been anxious to tell this story, I guess because not many people know that ‘officially’ my termination went down as involuntary. Looking back, now that I’m 40 years older and soon to be in my 60’s, (yuk), I guess what I did that day might seem a bit magnanimous or benevolent. I’m sure Larry felt it was. I didn’t really appreciate his position back then, but many years later I realized how scared he must have been. What if I had put up a fuss and shared with his boss the level of authority he had elevated me to as this pukey little 20 year old?
This little 20 year old was not worldly. I was immature and unaware. I was pure ‘Hamiltucky’. I had barely ever even left town to go to Cincinnati, let alone known anything about the roles and responsibilities of upper management in a corporation. The only thing I thought about that day really was “getting office experience”. That’s actually the phrase I used and it’s how I thought about it at the time. I wasn’t magnanimous; I saw it as an opportunity to get out of the restaurant business. I didn’t want to end up as an old guy in an industry where everyone else was young.
This immaturity, (or maybe a better word for it is ‘unworldliness’), would similarly one day carry me out of the foundry and into P&G. The day I interviewed with P&G, I knew nothing about P&G, nothing about the big city of Cincinnati and nothing of the corporate environment. I was told I would relocate within five years, (after all, P&G does stand for Pack&Go), but even that was difficult to visualize. Looking back, had Deuscher’s offered me a decent raise in salary, I probably would have stayed there, (and it would have been the worst mistake of my life).
The day I walked away from Taco Bell just felt like it was meant to be for me, like it was just another rung in the ladder. Isn’t that how life feels sometimes for you, like things feel so right that they were meant to be? I think this was the very first time in my work career that I learned to get excited and energized by a major change.
It would have been easy for me to feel depressed when I was ‘fired’. I was a newlywed and didn’t really have a clue where to get my next job. But instead, I was excited about the challenge, excited about the change. I guess that’s the point I’d like to most get across in this story; that some circumstances can quickly be accepted as exciting challenges that were ‘meant to be’.
This particular change happened ‘to me’ but after this one, I selectively made 7 more big professional changes in my career, (and these don’t even count the times I went back to school or trained for certifications). Each change was scary, but each delivered significant growth, both in skills and perspective. And I’m not done, I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘done’. These past 12 months have perhaps contained the greatest number of changes for me and my wife. They have been scary at times, but mostly they’ve been exciting and gratifying for me. I’ve come a very long way since my days spent in the alley at Prytania, but the most important thing I’ve learned is that I’m always growing up.
If you have found my story here and you are young, early in life and/or early in your work career, don’t be afraid of change – embrace it, see it as an opportunity for growth.
It’s ok to be afraid, use that fear….and grow!