Audacity, Gratitude, Resilience
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Prideful Fall

My 1993 Budget presentation to TSI’s Board ended with three definitions of success. The first Ralph Waldo Emerson’s definition: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” The second I called Bain’s definition: “A superior financial return for shareholders over an extended time period. Finding high growth sectors to maximize business opportunities; with a focus on relative market share, value creation, and high reward for high performance.” Finally one I called the Genzyme measure of success: “Building an important corporation faster and better than the competition; with great expectations, satisfying but not focusing on shareholders, stretching forecasts as far as you reasonably can, and then working like crazy to make them happen, because results are all that matter.” We wanted to succeed by all these measures.

Little did we know as we approved this budget that the newly elected President of the United States was creating a health care task force that would accidently destroy our company. The First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton chaired the task force and in March 1993 announced they would seek caps on drug prices in the United States. The Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s Association immediately suggested its members discontinue their existing preclinical and clinical development contracts, and lay off non-essential research and development employees, in order to put pressure on the federal government. By April our revenues for 1993 had fallen to $34 million, less than half what we had on the books in January, our stock price was in free fall, and we were hemorrhaging cash. I called an emergency Board meeting because we were days from defaulting on our bank lines and needing to file for bankruptcy. The Board decided instead to go into executive session without me present, and after several hours of contentious discussion, mostly about whose fault this was, they voted to fire me. I was devastated. It seemed surreal.

Our stock had already fallen by two thirds, but upon the announcement of my being fired, it fell much further. My severance terms were set by my contract, but most of our employees were at will employees, so when the board voted to lay off half of them I needed to go to bat for them to ensure their families were not too badly injured. I spent the better part of the next six weeks assisting severance negotiations, exit interviews, and outplacement counselling for employees who TSI laid off. None of us had seen this coming. I was able to offer many of them some assistance in their unexpected transition. For my family it was an incredible blow. I had lost my position of honor and respect, my great salary and bonus, and my industry reputation. Our net worth declined by 90% over six weeks. My fame, fortune, purpose, and identity all destroyed in this unexpected cataclysm. Yet losing my company was never as bad as would have been losing my wife the year before. Life is precious. Fame is fleeting. I fell from the high wire but did not die. So gathered family and friends around me and licked my wounds.

The Worcester Telegram and Gazette devoted a large part of its business section to describing the morality tale that led TSI to take on too much concentrated business risk leaving us vulnerable to this temporary business downturn. The Wall Street Journal summarized my obituary in three short paragraphs: bright guy, brilliant plan, poorly executed, then accidentally destroyed. Suddenly people who had been chasing me for access for years would go quiet when I entered a room, or look away, or head the other way to avoid me, as if being fired could be somehow contagious. Other people who had never made time for me suddenly reached out with kind words of support. My self-identity was on a roller coaster. My self-esteem gyrating wildly.

This entry was posted in: Audacity, Gratitude, Resilience


Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom is a transcendentalist, author, mystic, theologian, entrepreneur, social impact investor, company creator and spiritual seeker. Jim holds a BA from Yale, an MBA from Harvard, and Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Andover Newton.

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