CEOs are fired or forced to resign. It happens, as in business, as well as in private life, some relationships are not bound to last forever. Even Steve Jobs, who will always be one of the archetypes for CEOs for a long time from now, severed his connections with Apple at a certain point.
Being fired or having rumors spread about having been forced to leave a company is a crisis for a professional’s personal brand. Other potential employers will be influenced by some other player’s decision to fire their CEO and not want to hire that very same person to lead their company. So how one handles their personal brand while and after being fired is not something that should be taken lightly.
I had a conversation on this topic with a CEO that left a tech company very suddenly, and the details of the event were never fully talked about. At least not in the open! The person in question was commenting on the Yahoo – Carol Bartz breakup and said that was the way to do it: let everyone know what’s going on instead of protecting the interests of a company that just got rid or you. I asked why they had taken a different approach and the answer was that immediately after the event, they were unable to separate their own interests from those of the former employer.
My opinion is that once you are fired, your interests and goals are the only ones that count. You have been fired and when word gets out, you will have a reasonably hard time finding a new job, unless you have a good explanation, backed up by somewhat verifiable facts to back you up. Taking a strong stand and explaining your reasons would certainly help your brand of a competent professional.
But there are caveats, as in everything that has to do with communication. First of all, it does matter who has the stronger voice and who’s got more trust. In most cases, the media is one of the sources of information, but actually your ex-team, your partners and clients are as good of a reference. If they believe you, they might vouch for you and help spread the information you need to ensure your brand is still bright and attractive in the end. Secondly, the tone is paramount. A fired CEO having they say on a matter needs to appear honest, smart and with a good sense of business. If the opposite happens, you’d be labeled vindictive and getting a new job will be worse. Third issue you need to keep in mind is that the audience you’re addressing needs to be thought of as a small world. Not all companies will hire hot shot CEOs and the medium and big ones in a market and those connected to it are not so many. They are a handful and their opinion is the one that matters, the rest of the world might be buzzing about you, it still does not matter.
So should a fired CEO take the stand and speak their mind? They should certainly give it a try if they are not at fault in any way. If their performance was less than impressive and they cannot prove it all happened despite their inhuman, best possible effort, it’s better to lay low and let it all pass. In most cases, companies don’t make a fuss about it, they just announce a new CEO and move on to the next order of business. So if the beehive is quiet and relax, one needs to carefully consider their actions before taking a stick and poking it. Also true, a company would not have much to gain from a public scandal involving a former CEO, so their retaliation to your attack might not be strong or might not come.
If you’re still wondering what to do in such a situation, the road to your answer is simple: remember your interests and objectives. See how you can best go about obtaining everything you want. If exposing the short mindedness and errors of your former employers helps, then do it. Talk to the audience that interests you – potential employers or the whole world. Then get ready to face any storm that might trouble your personal brand.