By Tony Samson
THEATER has a ritual calling back performers on stage after the end of the play to take a bow. The audience showers the cast with standing ovations, hoots, catcalls, and prolonged applause. The curtain call allows performers to be called back again and again to bask in the audience’s appreciation. They sometimes accommodate the audience (“more, more”) with an encore number greeted with even more enthusiasm. Those heading for the exits turn back and stay to the end.
Corporate executives too have their moment on the stage to take a bow when they retire, or leave even if just to migrate to another country without a virus scare. The despedida (or farewell) party is a tradition equivalent to the curtain call. This practice is an event to honor a departing executive with speeches and videos of appreciation, and a sumptuous buffet. It is given even for the dearly departed, as in the iconic athlete recently honored after an untimely death. The despedida allows people to express their friendships with the honoree — “he always asks me to do jobs he should be doing himself, and that’s how I also learned to take credit for the work done by others.” This parade of speakers may even include one known to be a vicious rival. He too is fulsome in his praise to make the honoree wonder why he was previously so secretive about his admiration.
When the honoree has been sacked or asked to take early retirement, which is now the preferred term for executives thrown out of a moving bus, the farewell party can have its awkward moments. (Why is the wife sobbing into her soup?)
Accolades tend to congregate around “niceness.” Note that this is different from making meaningful contributions to the success of the company or contributing to the rise in its market cap. So, anecdotes fall in the category of thoughtfulness — he brought me home one time during a typhoon. We had to stop somewhere to avoid the floods. (The garage door opened upward.) These heroic stories need not be work-related.
There may be a video presentation to lighten up the mood. Pictures of the honoree are shown, when he still had hair and his waistline did not require industrial-strength belts. Some triumphal moments include civic awards and cheer rallies to launch a product. Former colleagues also now retired may make a video appearance (with a dog barking in the background) — he was an efficient clerk.
If clients are invited, they are quietly relegated to a corner table attended to by the replacement of the departing executive. This transition move ensures that the servicing of a top account is seamless, and the exit of the honoree for his second career causes no undue interruption.
The tricky moment is always the “acceptance speech.” Like the loser in a reality show who still must render a final number and say positive things about the judges, the honoree rises to the occasion. The segment requires self-control and the attempt to be a good sport. (I didn’t want to be here tonight. But nobody else wanted my place.) Irony is acceptable if it does not go on too long — my boss took care of me… as you can see.
Political exits for appointive positions can offer surprising turns, sometimes ending less than a month after the announcement of an informal offer, surprisingly accepted. Is there even time to make a proper farewell or be given a send-off party? Maybe, an unsolicited report is a good way to say goodbye.
Elective posts have a defined term, as well as an exit process. These do not require curtain calls. Though there may be efforts to hang on after the play ends and the audience has left. It is an attempt to introduce a sequel featuring the butler in a leading role. (Of course, he did it.) Even in the case of term-sharing, as the agreed date of turnover nears, the hesitation on bowing out gracefully starts to surface with all sorts of excuses.
Is there a difference between “taking a bow” and simply “bowing out”? Only the applause. The former involves open cheering. The latter celebrates a secret delight from those who had a hand in the push. Both farewells lead to the exit… when it no longer matters which door was taken.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.