Opinion

James Ebo Whyte: The day I was dismissed

There is a day in September that I will never forget. It began like any normal day. I did not wake up with any premonition that something terrible was about to happen to me.

It began as a beautiful day and I had no idea that by the end of that day, my life, as I knew it, would be turned upside down, inside out and changed forever.

I was the head of Marketing and Sales for a company that was a leader in its sector. I had what I thought was a great relationship with my boss, the CEO of the company.

He was a very serious-minded and hardworking person and I admired and respected him deeply. I had a great relationship with my staff and morale in the department was very high.

Sales were very good in a time when other companies were complaining and our customer service was improving by the day. And I was feeling very good about my work because I had received letters of commendation from my boss and the board of directors on my performance.

I got to the office as usual at 7.15 am, participated in the daily morning devotions for staff, went to our main outlet to interact with the sales team and with our customers; went to the warehouse to follow up on some stock reports I was expecting and then at about 9 am, I returned to my office to attend to some administrative stuff.

I had no idea that my fate had already been decided and that I was a “dead man walking.”

My intercom rang. It was my boss. He said, “Ebo, when you are free, please pop into my office. “And that was his typical style. He did not like issuing orders but dropped hints and he knew that I would get it.

He knew that if he said, I should see him when I am free, I would drop whatever I was doing and hurry to his office. He respected me enough not to order me and I respected him enough not to keep him waiting. If he wanted to see me, then it had to be now. So I dropped everything I was doing and hurried to his office.

When I entered, I discovered that the acting chairman of the board of directors was seated. This man was one of my role models. I admired him very deeply and I was always excited to see him. I greeted him warmly but uncharacteristically he was cold towards me but I did not think much of it.

After all, he was now the acting chairman of the board of directors and I was just a head of department.

I had no business acting too familiar with him. My boss said, “The board of directors met at an emergency meeting last night and took a decision about you. You will find it in this letter.”

He handed me an envelope. I looked at his face to get a clue as to what might be contained in the letter before opening it. His face was grim and so was that of the acting chairman of the board. But even then, no alarm bell rang for me.

I was no saint or angel but I knew that I was serving the company to the very best of my ability. I was very devoted to the company and I was giving the company everything I had.

I opened the envelope and read the words I never expected to read ever in my life: “Summary dismissal.” Yes, the letter was my dismissal letter. Nine very serious charges had been leveled against me and I was out. The dismissal came as a total surprise because I had not been invited to answer any of the nine charges.

One of the most serious of the charges accused me of diverting business from the company to a new company I was alleged to have set up. I did not have any company of my own.

I was later told that the board had been informed that I had managed to get one of the foreign suppliers of the company to send goods to me in my personal capacity and that the first consignment had already landed and I have stocked my shop with the products to compete with the company that employed me.

The board was then told to ignore the rules of natural justice and sack me immediately because if they delayed, I would steal all the remaining foreign suppliers from them.

After reading the letter of dismissal, I stood there for a moment, totally at a loss as to what to do. And that day was September 26, 1991, twenty-eight years ago.

The day that had begun like a normal beautiful day had turned ugly and my life came tumbling down. My sudden and unexpected dismissal plunged me into depression and confusion. I was lost, scared, bitter and unemployed for more than one and a half years.

I felt like an outcast and a total failure. For months, I hid myself from the world. I was too ashamed to come out of my house and would only come out deep in the night to go for a walk.

I thought that the whole world had heard of my disgrace and shame and that the whole world had judged me as the most despicable person who ever lived.

For days, I could not pray. Here I needed to pray more than ever but I just could not bring myself to pray. It didn’t help that the board that had sacked me was composed of people I looked up to in the Christian faith.

These were good and godly people and yet I knew that they had been very unfair to me and I could not understand how these good and godly people could move to destroy me so completely.

I felt like how Joseph in the Bible might have felt when his brothers sold him into slavery. Those who had gotten rid of me, like those who got rid of Joseph were my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I knew Joseph came out alright but I wondered if I would ever smile or laugh again.

It took time and a lot of support from my wife and a few friends but with time, I learnt to live again; I learnt to rise from the ashes of shame to begin rebuilding my life, one day at a time. I rediscovered the courage to face the world and to face my shame of being dismissed.

Today I look back to what I call my day of shame with gratitude because that day led directly to who I am today

The writer James Ebo Whyte is a Motivational Speaker and the founder of Roverman Productions.