Unexpectedly losing one’s job can be an opportunity.
Ray Zinn talks about how getting firsted led to being the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, and how it works for people in more common situation.
Guy Smith: Hello welcome to another episode of the Tough Things First podcast and I’ve got a question for the audience right off the bat. Have you ever been fired? I know I have. Never a pleasant experience and believe it or not, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley got canned once and that really set his career in an entirely new direction and that’s what we’re going to be talking about today is, a traumatic event like this, is getting fired and the opportunity for people in general and entrepreneurs in particular. And so welcome back Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley. Howdy Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hey Guy. How you doing?
Guy Smith: Oh man, it’s a fantastic day here. I hope everything’s well with you.
Ray Zinn: It is. It is. But let me correct something actually. You said I was only fired once. Actually I was fired many times, four, five times. As Tom Peters says in his book, Pursuit of Excellence, “If you’re to getting fired, you’re just not trying hard enough.” That’s something that has caused me problems over the years is that pushing hard on getting things done sometimes ruffles feathers and so I ended up getting terminated quite a few times. But the one you’re referring to is when I left my prior company just before forming Micrel, I had just invented the wafer stepper and caused a lot of problems within the company and they said that to me, “You don’t belong in a company. You need to go start your own company.” I remember going home and telling my wife. I said, “That’s it. I’m had it. I’m not going to work for anybody ever again. I’m going to start my own company.” She said, “Well, what kind of company’s that going to be?” And I said, “I don’t know yet. We’ll figure it out.” Anyway, since July of 1976, I never worked for anybody again except for myself.
Guy Smith: And there’s such joy in working for yourself. I love that Tom Peters quote, I’ve ruffled more than my share of feathers over the years and I think I sense the same thing you do. You have a vision, you see the way things ought to be going. Once in a while you’re in a company which just isn’t moving as fast as you are or thinking ahead of the game as much as you are and it’s a real indicator that you need to be in a different place. Does that make sense? Is that really a right way of looking at that?
Ray Zinn: It can. It depends upon your circumstance and it varies from individual to individual and company to company. It just, it all depends. Every situation is different. None of them are exactly the same. But, one point I want to make as we’re talking about what it means to be fired, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean that you’re not really a productive person. It just means that you didn’t fit in. Somehow or another that was a round peg in a square hole and so you just didn’t work right within that particular environment. What’s good for one is not necessarily good for another and you need to find where we fit in as they say.
Now, sometimes people leave on their own. They do go out and look for other jobs. Statistics show that our decision making process is no better than 50/50. In other words, you might as well just flip a coin and say, “What should I do, heads or tails?” And so, when you decide to leave on your own and go out and look for a job you have to watch out because your decision making process is only good as a flip of a coin.
On the other hand, if you’re fired or if you are forced to leave through RIF or whatever, that was forced upon you so it wasn’t like you’re flipping a coin. You’re actually now having to go out and now be more prudent in the way you search for another position. As the saying goes, “When you close one door, you open another window.”
It’s kind of like if you go to the doctor and find out you got this horrible disease and he tells you to go this particular regimen to solve the problem whether it be sugar diabetes or whatever. You end to actually being healthier by having these circumstances come your way. My experience is and the thousands of people that have worked for me, whenever they’ve left on their own, they ended up doing worse than when they were forced to leave. In other words, when you sometimes, when you’re forced to leave, you end up doing better than just if you had to do something on your own. That’s what my experience has shown is that when you have to do something, not that you want to, but when you have to do something, you end up, it’s more beneficial. You end up turning out better than it would have otherwise been had you just chose to do it on your own.
Guy Smith: Right, right. Everyone on, that makes a lot of sense because it forces one to think about their options whereas when people leave they already have one option in mind and it’s they don’t take the time to look at everything that might be on the table in front of them. Which brings up a great question, we already said, some people when they face termination, they go out, they start their own business. Other people just find a better fit, at a different company where their attitudes find a better home. What other opportunities are out there when one finds themselves suddenly unemployed? Aside from having a lot of free time on their hands.
Ray Zinn: It’s again, varies from person to person. Sometimes you have to change careers. Maybe you have to move. Sometimes moving is having to leave one state to another or one city to another. Might be just the thing that either helps your family or your children or it all depends. It’s something that we need to consider when we do make a change is what impacts that’s going to have on my family. Sometimes moving teenagers from one high school to another is not good because they lose their friends and then they have to make new friends. It can be good and it can be bad. It depends upon each family circumstance is different.
Guy Smith: One thing that I’ve encountered with other people who have been terminated is occasionally they get followed by a bad employer review. If you don’t get along with your boss and your boss doesn’t get along with you, they may not give you the best write up in the world if a new employer is doing an inquiry. How does an terminated employee turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse? How can they turn that negative into something positive when they go out on job interview?
Ray Zinn: Good question Guy. Statistics show that most employees leave because they didn’t get along with their boss. They and their supervisor didn’t connect well. Whether you stay on and your boss is still going to give you bad review whether it be that you stayed on with the company or whether you leave. And so most employers know and understand that supervisor is one of the main reasons why employees are dissatisfied with their job. It’s not something, they don’t have to contact your supervisor. You will list other references and maybe clear from let’s say they one of your other references is from your previous company and they also understood the situation with you and your boss or the boss himself and they can correct that. Make sure that when you do go out and you look for jobs, you have multiple reference so that you’re not necessarily tied to one particular reference.
Guy Smith: That’s a good idea. Multiple references at least helps the new employer triangulate a little bit and clear maybe some discontent over there.
Ray Zinn: And avoid talking bad about your supervisor. That’s another thing that you want to do. Even though you may not like him or get along well with him or her, don’t talk bad about them. Just say, “Listen, I’m sure they are great individuals and they had their view of the way things should be run.” But don’t say anything bad about them, don’t ridicule them or bad mouth them. Just say that, we just didn’t fit. Things didn’t just click. They’re good people and unfortunately it was a round peg in a square hole.
Guy Smith: I’ve got imagine if you’re in the hiring position and you have an employee candidate who’s saying pleasant and nice things about the former supervisor and the former supervisor is throwing a nasty attack into the fold, you kind of get the impression that maybe the supervisor was the problematic element.
Let’s talk about motivation. I had a friend, he spent 30 years in the tech industry and of course, slowing turning into an old man, he finally got fired one day. He did not have a motivation problem ’cause he always wanted to become a chef and so he immediately enrolled in a culinary academy and has been a happy fellow ever since. Not everyone has that kind of pre-destiny in mind so what should somebody do to keep their motivation up when they do get fired? Assuming that they don’t already have a life plan on the plate in front of them.
Ray Zinn: The old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” You just take it as a win. In other words, say, “Listen, this is a great deal. This a chance for me to start over and get a fresh start.” Look on the positive side that they opened a door for you and they said, “Here. We’re going to give you an opportunity to try something else.” And so look forward. Look ahead is really an opportunity as opposed to being a problem or a challenge.
Guy Smith: Yeah. And that’s tough to do initially but I think if one puts their brain around it and realizes that the future is always unfolding in front of them, then it seems less.
Well anyway, thank you Ray. This has been enlightening on many different fronts. In Silicon Valley people change jobs a lot and people do get fired but there’s always a new opportunity in Silicon Valley and anywhere else in the world so for the listeners, I hope that you take all this advice in heart and maybe even think about starting your own business like Ray did when he ran into a unemployment situation.
By all means, if you have not read Tough Things First, make it a priority to click on amazon.com and get a copy of the book. You’ll get Ray’s full story on how selling a bunch of nonexistent technology to Texas Instruments led to him founding his own company after quick dismissal and a lot of other great stories that give you some keen insight into what it really takes to be a great entrepreneur.
And also, don’t forget to rate and review the Tough Things First podcast on iTunes and Google podcasts or wherever you are consuming your podcast content. Thanks again Ray and you have a wonderful afternoon.
Ray Zinn: Remember, losing your job is not the end, it’s the beginning so don’t lose heart if you have to make a change. Look at it as a new beginning as opposed to an end. And thank you Guy.