Winston Churchill famously told us that history would be kind to him, because he intended to write it. Winners do often get to rewrite history, usually their version of it. They’re the ones who go out on top, at the peak of their careers – for example, in the manner of America’s hugely successful The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart. By most accounts, his resignation was perfectly timed, delivered with the panache and flourish of a true professional. The world will be his oyster. But what about those who quit in less glittering circumstances? Here are a few particularly memorable ones – some are funny, others moving enough to earn four-hankie status, others like the first two on my list are dramatic enough to be spun into five-star movie classics.
1. Greg Smith
Smith was the American banker who, in 2012, revealed to us an investment banking culture that was “toxic and destructive”. He did this through the New York Times, giving us grim and gory details about the “muppets” in his company, Goldman Sachs. Here’s a snippet of his letter (you can read it in full here):
“…the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money”.
2. Andrew Lahde
Lahde showed us what really goes on in the minds of hedge fund managers of his ilk when, in his resignation letter, published in the Financial Times, he referred to “The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale… were there for the taking.”
3. Stephen Slater
After an altercation that occurred on JetBlue Airways flight 1052, flight attendant Stephen Slater resigned with a flourish. In a straw-that-broke –the-camel’s-back moment, the beleaguered flight attendant took to the plane’s public information system and, in an expletive-laden rant, quit his job, concluding his tenure with his now famous (de)parting shot:
"I’ve been in this business 20 years. And that’s it, I’m done."
4. Adam (Taco Bell employee)
Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to think outside the ‘bun’. Adam was the very disgruntled shift duty manager of a Taco Bell restaurant in New York who, on being told he couldn’t take the 4 of July off work when other employees were allowed to do so, decided to ‘f-bomb’ his resignation, broadcasting it over the Highway on an illuminated sign: “I QUIT – ADAM. F--- YOU”.
5. James Purnell
James Purnell is the former UK Work and Pensions Secretary of State who ‘did a Geoffrey Howe’ – a phrase that has its roots in Sir Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech to parliament under Margaret Thatcher’s government. The expression refers to employees whose public resignations attempt to also take down their employer (whilst also committing career suicide in the process). Purnell resigned in 2009 from the Labour Party Cabinet, using his resignation letter to also urge the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown to step down as leader of the party, in effect declaring his boss as unelectable: “I am therefore calling on you to stand aside to give our Party a fighting chance of winning. As such I am resigning from Government”.
These resignations offer us something extra: a compelling glimpse through the cracks, a narrative that’s different from the one fed to us or which we’ve assumed was the case. All are parting shots that offer us a different version of the world we think we inhabit, a missing piece of the jigsaw that helps us to begin to assemble something that’s a little closer to the truth – whether that’s a discovery of what life is really like for minimum wage workers or how those who purport to serve us really couldn’t care less.
What do you think?