How to Make Quitting a PR Move and Power Play

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If this month had a theme, it certainly seemed to be "people exiting major companies with explosive parting shots."

You've likely heard of Greg Smith's diatribe for the New York Times on why he left Goldman Sachs (long story short: he no longer believes in the company's culture), but in its shadow was James Whittaker blogging about why he quit Google (a similar story).

These two weren't nobodies in their company. Smith was executive director and head of the firm's United States equity derivatives in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Whittaker was engineering director. In terms of newsworthiness, Whittaker left in February and Smith left last week.

This is a juicy topic and there are a lot of ways to go at it. I think there are a few things to learn from it, particularly for those who might be tempted to follow suit, maybe by quitting their posts at the companies they work at and striking it out as their own as an entrepreneur or maybe to leverage that move into a better position at a better company. But this move can be risky, and you might find yourself wanting to move towards greener pastures but instead landing in browner ones.

The first thing to ask is, well, why do top people at big companies leave? There are a handful of major reasons, and Forbes coincidentally had a piece on this very topic back in January -- before any of this happened. The piece boils it down to this single reason: "Top talent leave an organization when they’re badly managed and the organization is confusing and uninspiring."

Okay. That makes sense. But is writing about it so publicly potentially burning bridges or a savvy PR move? That all depends. "This is not about 'bridge burning,'" says Elle Kaplan, CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital Management in NYC, who also offered Smith a job. "I applaud him."

Suki Shah, co-founder and CEO of, offered this bit of advice via email if you're feeling inspired by all this:

  • "
Make sure you have an offer letter from the company you are planning
to work at next, and plan to give your current company at least two weeks'
  • Do not tell your colleagues (or the media) that you are quitting before you tell your boss.
  • Volunteer to train your replacement and create a simple and detailed memo to your team that gives an overview of projects that are in progress.
  • Ask for a letter of recommendation.
  • Do a great job up until the day you leave, including keeping a positive attitude.
  • Don't jump out of a plane (referring to JetBlue flight attendant).
  • Don't quit without notice, and don't quit dramatically or publicly; show deference to your bosses by telling them in private first; if you burn bridges on your way out, the next company that hires you will think twice about you because you are unpredictable and unprofessional.
  • Understand that the network of connections that you have built is easy to destroy -- yet more than half of all people get a job through someone in their network."

If you have a problem with the company culture, confront the leadership of that company; don't keep it a secret. Some of this seems out of whack if you're planning on doing a ballsy move like, you know, writing about your departure in such a public manner. Nothing quite tops the NY Times, and it's unlikely most folks can warrant similar real estate, but the consensus among those I talked to seems to be that if you're working for a place that doesn't have a favorable public image, you're likely to be in the clear. While someone like Steven Slater might've tickled the masses when he dramatically jumped out of a JetBlue plane with a beer in hand to quit his job as a flight attendant, chances are it was tough for him to land a job somewhere else unless that company didn't look favorably upon that airline. To wit, I'm willing to bet you didn't even remember who Steven Slater was until I elaborated with the second half of that previous sentence. People's attention spans and memories are considerably shorter nowadays thanks to the Internet and such, but that doesn't mean you should assume people will forget so quickly if you burn a place you worked for. People generally love Google. Goldman Sachs? Well, the company seems to think it's doing "God's work." Nero fiddling comes to mind.

"[It's] shrewd in very certain circumstances." Abbe Diaz, author of Diary of the Maitre d' to the Stars, a book she wrote after quitting her job working as, well, the title explains that. "Burned bridges? I nuked those things, and I couldn't be happier. The bottom line is if you're very good at what you do, there are always other bridges. Sometimes better ones."

So, I suppose the thing to ask yourself first is: Are you very good at what you do?

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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