“YOU’RE FIRED!” says Donald Trump on his hit reality series, “The Apprentice.” This is certainly not a new phrase. It has been around in one form or another since the first person paid money to someone else to perform a task. What is also not new is the fear of possibly hearing these words, and the anguish it causes for people who have heard it. On July 18th, 2012 I was personally told by Progressive Insurance my employment with them was terminated. Why and how did this happen to me, arguably one of their very best salespeople? As with most things that surround me, the story is very unusual.
May 10, 1999 I was hired by a very vibrant company in the middle of an exciting evolution. Although Progressive was founded 75 years ago, when I first walked through the doors it seemed like it just started that day. As I walked down the hallways, I could just feel the energy and enthusiasm exuded by the people who worked there. They were happy to work for a forward moving company, who appreciated their important role in making that happen.
In those days you would see a tall striking man with a black cowboy hat wandering those same hallways. His aura and reputation could be felt ten feet in front of him, as well as ten feet behind him, as he mingled and talked with his employees.
A “Superpimp“ of sorts, his name was Peter B. Lewis. As most titans of industry of his era, he understood it was his people in the “trenches” who made the company successful. Good pay, good benefits, and motivational bonus incentive for those who excelled was his blueprint for showing his appreciation. As a tribute to this philosophy, when I started , Progressive was the 5th largest auto insurance company in the U.S. Approximately 2-3 yrs later we moved up to #3, quickly moving toward #2. As we fast forward to today’s version of this company, many of you reading this will be able to relate to your current job situation.
As time went on, the health of our fearless leader began to fail. His active role in the company became less and less until now it is my understanding he is a member of the board for pay purposes only. Many of the great Progressive leaders of this time period have either retired or moved on to another company. It is my opinion, as these people left, so did their philosophies as to what ultimately makes any company a success. The new “regime” has a different idea as to the order of priorities.
No longer are the hard working people of Progressive and their families #1 priority, but rather the stockholders. Why the change?
Like many other companies, the pay for the top end execs are way out of line. Progressive’s top dog (I personally like him) makes about $12m a yr salary, plus gainsharing and stock options. Depending on the year, it brings him to anywhere between $18m- $25m. How can he possibly live on that kind of money? I don’t blame him for that, but rather the financial structure of the company. Top execs keep those big bucks by pleasing the stockholders, not the “little folks”.
Is their new priority working? As of the day I left , Progressive’s ranking has dropped back to 4th largest, heading backwards towards 5th. (Even though they added homeowners insurance). Even in this time of high unemployment the company suffers from a large exodus of employees. Stock value has remained stagnant or dropped. The overall morale of their employees (As evidenced by the turnover rate) is at an all time low. Gone is the genuine energy, and enthusiasm that once was the trademark of people who worked here. In their place are false actions kept in place so they don’t hear the words, you’re fired. Now let’s talk about my firing.
As I mentioned earlier, my firing from Progressive is unusual. One of the reasons i: I planned and orchestrated it starting actively about two yrs ago. Up until approximately five years ago, I had planned to stay with Progressive for twenty yrs. Why my change of heart? Progressive’s change of heart.
I outlined earlier how, in my opinion, this company has changed. To sum up the major reasons I became disillusioned……
1) Every year I worked at Progressive I lost money (Average cost of living rises approx. 4% a yr. Progressive raises, if you got one, 1-3%)
2) Continuing to pile on more & more work with one hand, while taking more from you with the other. i.e. no more bonuses, less break time, less vacation than promised at hiring, less company sponsored employee appreciation events, to name a few.
3) Going to work everyday feeling like a micro-managed trained monkey, rather than a productive, thinking, adult human being.
Once I made the decision to get fired, I set the time table. I wanted my daughter to reach her 18th birthday. I needed to have a backup plan for her health insurance in place. Money had to be set aside for a couple months worth of bills. Last but not least, I had to developthe testicular fortitude to leave my comfort zone ( guaranteed paycheck ) so i could pursue my dream. With these things in place, I proceeded to break the rules I needed to get fired.
Will everyone agree with what I’ve said about today’s Progressive? Probably not. But it is my heartfelt opinion that most will. I want to make something very clear to all who read this: It was not my purpose to trash my former company. Keep in mind everything positive I said in the beginning, as well as the fact I was with them over 13 years. During the time I worked there i fought very hard to try & bring back the company I truly loved. As my peers of that time will tell you, I put my butt on the line many times saying out loud what most were thinking but were afraid to vocalize. My purpose was just to tell my personal story with the hope it will help others in some way.
In closing I want to convey to Glen Renwick & his staff what a wonderful group of hard working dedicated people they have working for them. If you make them once again your # 1 priority, many of Progressive’s problems will disappear & your jobs will be easier. Remember, when that call center licensed agent answers the phone, they are the “face” of the company. An appreciated employee equals a happy customer.
To my former Progressive “family”…..as hard as it was to try & write this piece, it will be much harder to convey how much I love & miss you all, and what you have meant to me through these last 13 yrs. Not only did we share our work experiences, but also our personal lives. Weddings, divorces …. births, deaths …. joys, sorrows. Hope I brought you a laugh or two through the years. I am happy and pursuing my dream…..I wish the same for all of you.
P.S.This is for those of you who didn’t see, or hear about my final morning at Progressive. Those of you who know me will get a kick out of this: Knowing I was going to get fired as soon as I came in, I wanted to go out with a bang instead of a whimper. So what was I wearing when I walked into the office at 10:05 am to get the official word……………..The Pink Panther Suit…..
My fans gave me the nickname “SuperPimp” (Money Mike in Akron). I imagine the nickname came from my style and the women around me… Some people think it means pimpin’ women but this couldn’t be further from the truth. I am a single father of a eighteen year old girl, whom I love very much. What I “Pimp” (Promote and Stand For) is the good life. It’s all about good friends, good family, good food and good times.