Boosting Morale During Massive Layoffs

I've learned this the hard way because when I took over as Chief Executive of Reuters in 2001, not only was there what seemed at that time to be a significant recession in financial services, but it was just after 9/11, and Reuters itself was not in good competitive condition. I had to take out a lot of cost in a hurry and had to do it not in a particularly nuanced way. We took out something like 5,000 people out of what was, at one point, 19,000 at Reuters. And that was probably the most difficult thing I've ever done.

Having to do that has conditioned in some way the way I've managed ever since. In that, I never want let the business go so off the rails that one would need such an extraordinary program again to do it.

The only way I know to motivate people through a period like that, and it's not just everyone else, it's about motivating myself and my managers as well, is, you got to believe in the goal. We felt, those of us who came through that period 2001, 2003 at Reuters, that this 150-year-old company was a force for the good, deserved to live to see another day. And although it was very painful to often say goodbye to friends in the process, we had to focus on how do you make a 150-year-old company, and give it another 150-year license, and how do you create a stable employer for all the families that stay. And sometimes you need to do that tough medicine, but it ain't a lot of fun.

Why do we have to have such a boom and bust cycle? I think the US economy is uniquely sympathetic to the lay on a lot of people, and then take them out during difficult times. Obviously, some of the more socialized countries have more stringent rules about laying folks off. The downside then is, you don't add jobs.

If you look at what's happening in Europe right now, it's all of the contractors that are in deep trouble, because people haven't wanted to add permanent jobs in Germany, in France, in Italy because it's hard to get rid of them.

I'm not sure what's the best political answer, because if you make it too difficult to eliminate posts, nobody ever wants to add them. If I have to know that this is a job that will be in the company for 50 years, I'm going to take a lot longer to create that new job, or maybe I'll do it on a contract basis, rather than bringing on a permanent employee.

Our experience here, let's take Thomson Reuters right now through this recession, we have been eliminating some positions. But that's far more driven by the logic of the integration of the acquisition of Reuters by Thomson, than by the recession itself.

We have been careful over the last couple of years, in part I think because of my difficult experience at Reuters, and Thomson's always been an efficient company as well. The jobs that are going, by and large, are the jobs that were the overlap, and we haven't had to announce special purpose layoffs, other than in very particular circumstances.

 

Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer tells the story of having to cut 5,000 people in 2001, an experience that changed his business ethos forever. He also answers the question of how businesses get too big in the first place.

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