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Harvard Business Review

‘Don’t wait’: 10 steps to fire staff with compassion

Harvard Business Review
10 minute Read


In early 2007, after nearly a decade of growth, JetBlue was struggling. A Valentine’s Day ice storm at New York’s Kennedy International Airport had stranded hundreds of passengers on the tarmac for hours and revealed glaring weaknesses in JetBlue’s operating systems. After much deliberation, the board concluded that JetBlue’s brilliant founder and largest shareholder, David Neeleman, was no longer right to lead the company. We needed a new CEO.

As lead director at the time, I would be the one to deliver the news to David. With another director, I went to his office and told him, clearly and directly, that we’d decided to replace him and briefly explained why. To soften the blow, we asked him to stay on as chairman of the board. David was upset. He said we were making a mistake. We listened but were resolute. When he finished, we moved the discussion to next steps, including the public announcement of the leadership change.

More than a decade later, David continues to think we made the wrong decision. But he and I have maintained a long-running, cordial professional relationship. I still consider him to be the greatest commercial airline entrepreneur of all time, and I personally invested in his launch of Azul, a low-cost airline based in Brazil, where he was born.

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