She Had to Fire 35 People on Her Second Day on the Job. Here's How She Handled It -- and Her Advice for Rebuilding Trust.
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
In the Women Entrepreneur series My Worst Moment, female founders provide a firsthand account of the most difficult, gut-wrenching, almost-made-them-give-up experience they’ve had while building their business -- and how they recovered.
Efrat Ravid, currently chief marketing officer of UX platform ContentSquare, remembers the worst moment of her career. During her first week at a previous company, the business was moving some operations to the U.S. from its Europe office. On her second day, she was tasked with firing about 35 people that she’d never met before. She tells us her story and what others can learn from the experience.
What follows is a firsthand account of this person’s experience. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
“About 10 years ago, I was hired by a well-established tech company in Europe with 800 employees that was looking to go public. For a successful IPO, the company had made a strategic decision to move sales and marketing to the U.S.
I was hired as vice president of marketing, meaning it was my responsibility to plan and execute the transition. Although I knew beforehand that they needed to restructure and move the team to the U.S., it wasn’t clear to me that I would need to look about 35 people in the eyes and let them go. I thought any changes would have already been communicated before I came.
However, that wasn’t the case. On my second day at the job, I was flown to England to “restructure” some of their teams, which meant I had to let go of an entire marketing team of over 30 strangers. These were people that had worked there for many years.
I met with everyone one-on-one to rip off the Band-Aid. We had two discussions with each person. First, we told them it was going to happen -- 'we’re going to let you go' -- and then we told them when it did happen.
A marketing writer was one of the first people I had to let go. She was a little older, and she was sure she would never find a job. That was very difficult. She cried and said she wasn’t sure if she could go back home with the news. She wasn’t sure if she could tell her friends and family that her job was eliminated and that she wasn’t needed anymore.
I did have the company’s HR team to help. They knew each person, their history and strengths, and together we really tried to help each employee find another place in the organization and/or help them relocate to the U.S. if possible. We told them it wasn’t about them personally, that it was about the move to the U.S., and that we’d try to help them find their new future. We even tried to help them to obtain another job in the local community through recommendations and career advice.
Still, the company was located in a small town, so everyone knew each other and their families. Those affected saw me as a big bad American coming to take jobs away. That was the worst moment; I felt that everyone looked at me as an evil person.
Letting someone go is the hardest thing a manager can do. I felt like George Clooney in that movie Up in the Air. It was a horrible feeling, and I wasn’t sure if I made the right decision in joining the company. I called my husband and told him I wasn’t sure why I took the job, that it was the worst decision ever. I was freaked out, and I couldn’t sleep for two weeks.
The good news was I was able to relocate a couple of people to the new office, hire an amazing team, and I tried to help some others with personal introductions. As a company, we started a new successful operation in the U.S. with a fun and creative campaign to rebrand the company to fit the new market. Later, the company was acquired at a good price. I do believe I did my job in the best way I could, no matter how hard it was.
From the experience, I learned that even when change is hard and sometimes not fair, sometimes a business needs to make changes for the right reasons. I also learned to absolutely not accept positions where the first steps are to fire employees and evaluate them on performance that I haven’t seen myself.
And for others in a similar position, I’d advise to treat each person with a lot of respect. We have a saying in Hebrew: Each person is a whole world -- treat them as if they are the most important thing. I would also recommend to partner with other executives that can help and spend as much time as necessary to rebuild trust.”