Kinder and Gentler Executive Dismissals

A fun guide to the code words used in executive dismissals.

“The ACME Explosives Company today announced losses of $180 million for the quarter.  It was also announced that Kevin Jones, Chief Operating Officer, will be leaving the company to pursue other interests.” 


That statement, or variations of it, can be found almost every day in the business press.  “Leaving to pursue other interests…”  What that usually means is that COO Jones was asked to leave.  He got terminated, taken out.

In the macho, rough-and-tumble, take-no-prisoners, high candor corporate world, there is an interesting politeness that accompanies news about personal failure at senior levels.  While company press releases triumphantly herald new executive hires and promotions, resignations and terminations are couched in the most genteel and palatable of terms.             

This kid gloves treatment preserves the dignity of the individual and also upholds the public image of the company.  Those are good things, but let’s all realize that there is a “wink-wink” behind many of those oh-so-matter-of-fact references to an executive’s dismissal.  

Here, you’ll be provided with some corporate code words and phrases that you might see in the paper or in a company memo when an exec leaves and what the code really means.

“Mr. Jones resigned under pressure.”
What it really means:  “We would have fired the guy if he hadn’t quit.  In fact, we would have pushed him down the elevator shaft if we could have gotten away with it.”

“Mr. Jones inspired passion in our customers.”
What it really means:  “Just the mention of his name would cause our customers’ faces to turn purple in rage.”


“He will be remembered long after he leaves.”
What it really means:  “We can’t remove the obscenities on the bathroom walls that were spray painted about him by many of the employees.”

“He demonstrated a passion for numbers.”
What it really means:  “He never did anything at the office except to work sudoku puzzles.”

“He made untold contributions to the company.”
What it really means:  “We can’t name a single important thing that he accomplished.”

“Mr. Jones’s successor will have big shoes to fill.”
What it really means:  “The only comparison to Jones that we can think of is Bozo the Clown.”

“He created fierce loyalty among his employees.”
What it really means:  “He hired his relatives, friends and other assorted lapdogs and sycophants.”

“He was known for his orientation to detail.”
What it really means:  “This company has never seen such an anal retentive micro-manager.”


“He touched so many people at the company.”
What it really means:  “He touched so many people at the company.”

“He brought diverse thinking to the leadership team.”
What it really means:  “On a good day, his ideas and opinions were goofy.  Most other times they were absurd and preposterous.”

“He was a big picture thinker.”
What it really means:  “This guy had ‘DDD’ – Detail Deficit Disorder.  He often misspelled his own name when signing memos.”

“It would take 3 people to replace him.”
What it really means:  “Only Larry, Moe and Curley could screw things up as badly as Jones did.”

There you have it.  Now I need to get back to my day job before a memo comes out announcing that I have left the company to “pursue other interests.”

Mike Hoban is a senior consultant for a global talent management consulting firm
and can be contacted at