Retensa’s Top 10 “Biggest Quits” of 2010
Annual review of the most significant voluntary resignations in the United States.
New York, NY, January, 2011 – 2010 saw more organizations lose employees after 20 months than 20 years. We passed the tipping point of settling into the same office, at the same company, and putting in your 40 years. Does this reflect a cultural trend, as American’s quest for instant gratification leads to jumping from one “It” company to the next? Maybe it is a result of the ever-present volatility, manifesting in erratic stock prices, uncertain national credit ratings, Occupy protests at home and the Arab Spring abroad. Whatever the source, this trend is reinforced by a change in how we process and receive information. A greater breadth of news is more immediately accessible and instantly updated than ever before. It compels us to digest short, condensed slices, and experience a fleeting feeling before moving on to the next 140 character emotion. But aren’t careers supposed to be longer than 140 characters? As in previous years Retensa identifies the “Biggest Quits” across all industries highlighting the year’s most important departures spurred by poor planning, poor support or poor talent strategy on the part of the organization. We are pleased to present the seventh annual publication of Retensa’s Top 10 “Biggest Quits” – the most intriguing turnover stories of 2010.
Steven Slater (Flight Attendant): JetBlue
Peanuts, pretzels, and a psychotic episode. All in a day’s work for the JetBlue flight attendant who had had enough of dealing with his passengers’ baggage. An expletive-rich announcement and emergency chute later, Steven Slater quit his job and made international headlines. Heralded by some for acting out the fantasy that millions wish for, Slater repented in the end for his actions. He took a plea deal for a $10,000 fine and 12 months in a mental-health program. Public reaction was certainly divided, but the incident highlighted the two sides of growing tensions in the airline industry. Passengers gouged with more fees, delayed planes, tighter seats, and less amenities, and the crew who now has to police the air, charge for amenities, and deal with people stuffing a week of shoes and souvenirs into an overhead bin built to hold a bundt cake. If you hire people to do one job, and you change that job and increase the stress of it, those same people will give you results you did not expect.
America called for leadership, and asked their employers to be more transparent in 2010. Social media and WikiLeaks willingly lent a hand. The funny thing about transparency is that once you expose the Emperor’s clothes, you expect others to stop wearing them as well. As the clothes faded, leaders reset goals, companies reanalyzed strategies, and boards wrung out what they could from whatever they had left. Was any of this preventable? Certainly 94% of turnover is. When great employees leave they take significant intellectual and relationship capital and also (as seen from this year’s list) other great employees. First observed in the late 90’s War for Talent, Retensa calls it the “Undertow Effect,” when influential individuals depart and take their peers and/or subordinates with them. By all accounts, the currents of this undertow are getting stronger.
A decade into the “No Child Left Behind” policy, the U.S. ranks 21st, 23rd, and 25th, respectively, in reading, math, and science worldwide. Former Washington D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee fought to reform a public school system littered with turmoil. In her first two years in office, she achieved the largest test results gain with districts that ranked at the bottom of U.S schools.2 Her resignation came shortly after D.C.’s mayor, Adrian Fenty, lost in the primary race. During a time when the U.S. education system is criticized for...read more
Simon Cowell, the caustic yet irresistible judge with acerbic wit and a penchant for uncomfortably snug V-necks, departed American Idol after 9 seasons. It marks the end of an era for the series as Cowell, there since inception, led its unprecedented six consecutive seasons as the #1 show on television. Once described as “the most impactful show in the history of television,”3 a brief listen to radio today testifies to how its participants dominate the pop music and country charts. The divorce is especially ill-timed, as Idol’s ratings have...read more
Possibly the NBA’s biggest star today (and drafted straight from high school), LeBron James, took the Cleveland Cavaliers to their most winning seasons and the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. He was a known high performer at the peak of his career, so what did the Cavaliers do to retain their top talent? Not enough. On July 8th, only minutes after informing the Cavaliers, James announced his 6’8” stature would fill a new #6 jersey to play for the Miami Heat. The criticism surged like the rising tides of a Miami hurricane....read more
No. 4 Ko, Patel, Pitaro, Schneider, Siegel (Executive Top Talent): Yahoo Yahoo has been unable to stop the bleeding from previous wounds (they are the first organization to repeat on the Biggest Quits list, see 2008). While CEO Carol Bartz re-focuses Yahoo on its core businesses, the company struggles to re-secure its footing against Google and Facebook.5 An unprecedented FIVE high-ranking executives departed in 2010. Even if we consider that “fresh minds” are needed, a sudden top-heavy migration would leave any workforce to wonder “Who’s...read more
No. 5 Joel Ewanick and Chris Perry (VP Marketing, VP Marketing): Hyundai Picture it: Hyundai 1998. Can’t? That’s how important these two were. Ewanick was named CMO of the Year by Forbes in 2009, Grand Marketer of the Year by Brandweek, and Marketer of the Year by Advertising Age. Ewanick, during his 3 years at Hyundai, is credited with catapulting Hyundai into the top rank among the big players in the U.S. auto market. Poached by Nissan in March 2010,7 and six weeks later stolen by General Motors to be their VP of US marketing, Ewanick was...read more
No. 6 Fareed Zakaria and others (Editors/Editors-at-Large): Newsweek In August, Newsweek’s best-known columnist, Fareed Zakaria, followed many of his peers in exodus, including former Editor and Pulitzer Prize bestselling author Jon Meacham, Evan Thomas (Editor-at-Large), and Michael Isikoff (a leading investigative journalist). Unlike the others, in a never-pleasant-watercooler-moment, Zakaria revealed he would join Newsweek’s direct competitor, Time. Zakaria said his weekly program on CNN (also a Time Warner subsidiary) with new...read more
Who’s got your focaccia? Starting in 1981, co-founder Ronald Shaich baked himself a 1400-plus chain of stone-milled success. Shaich intends to contribute to the world beyond Panera. Bill Moreton, the co-chief operating officer since 2008, will replace him. Shaich will become executive chairman of the board, and will oversee strategic initiatives at the company.10 Even staying involved, a founder’s departure is like no other. As the genesis of an idea, a vision, and a culture, a unique bond exists between a workforce and the company’s creator....read more
No. 8 Rahm Emanuel (White House Chief of Staff): Obama Administration The single most significant staff turnover in the White House’s first two challenging years. Rahm Emanuel announced, as of October 1, 2010, that he would resign as Chief of Staff to run for Chicago mayor. Not good timing for a relatively soft-spoken Administration with (at times both) parties vigorously against them. It will not get easier. Obama depended on the outspoken champion to quarterback their defensive position with loud and resilient views. Although VP Joseph...read more
No. 9 Owen Van Natta (CEO): MySpace MySpace, MySpace, wherefore art thou, MySpace? Few industries are a monopoly for long, but competition is tough in the kingdom of Facebook. It will be even tougher now for MySpace. After less than a year as CEO, Owen Van Natta left in early 2010 to join Facebook app-maker Zynga as EVP of Business. Van Natta, a Facebook alum, did not see eye-to-eye with parent company News Corp brass and chose not to stay. MySpace took a double blow as Jason Hirschhorn (promoted along with Mike Jones to be co president),...read more
No. 10 Ed Whitacre (CEO): General Motors No one person, including Whitacre, could save or end GM. The change at the helm is more an omen of GM’s leadership crisis following its recovery from bankruptcy. Steven Rattner (appointed to head the Auto Industry Task Force and “clean house”) selected Whitacre (former AT&T CEO) to signal an auspicious new beginning for GM. However, short-lived executive tenures stall inertia and erode much-needed stability. At the same time, does this call into question other choices that Rattner (who never worked...read more