As a division leader at Toll Brothers Inc., the home-building company, Jeffrey A. Bartos had a front-row seat for the collapse of the housing market, with the horrible job of laying off the company's workers as business conditions deteriorated. "You never get used to it," he said. "A lot of times driving home with tears in my eyes and deep regret for the colleagues, you couldn’t keep working.
Bartos is now chief executive officer of the U.S. office of the Mark Group Inc., a British-based company that analyzes homes and buildings for energy efficiency and then makes the necessary repairs. He worked at Toll from 2001 to August 2010, and he describes the period from August 2006 through 2009 as the worst.
"That was a crazy time," he said, during our Leadership Agenda interview published Monday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "You are laying off people, because you don’t have work. These are good people who worked really hard. Toll is wonderful company and Toll, to its credit, worked really hard to help find other jobs for these people and they’ve hired back a lot of people."
What was it like to have to lay off constantly, I asked him.
"Over three years, it affected me in a way that was – where it got to the point – I never went to see anyone about it, but I was definitely down. Definitely down. I was sad.
"And my wife, God bless her, it was January of 2009 and she called me at the office and said, and I remember, it was a Friday, and she called me at the office and said, ‘I can’t take another year of you complaining o about work. You need to set a non-financial goal, something that gets you out of this funk.'"
Funk is right, because, as Bartos said, "At the end of the day, I kept my job, so there’s a certain guilt associated with it, and being the person responsible for doing it. You have to do it. It’s right for the business, and you have to do it. You are in that job because you have to make those hard decisions. But it’s terrible and everyone would tell you it’s terrible. You aren’t going to meet anyone who tells you it isn’t terrible.
"At the end of the day, you walk a fine line [though]. if you say it’s so terrible, because, at the end of the day, I kept my job. I didn’t have to worry about Cobra, and I didn’t have to worry about mortgage payments, so I was lucky. I was fortunate. There is an element that you feel very fortunate that you have a job. You feel very fortunate that the management believes in the job you are doing to keep you in job you are doing. You have the responsibility to run a profitable division and you have to have sales to support it.
"Nothing prepares for having a 64” Vietnam vet, on your shoulder, hysterically crying because he just lost his job of 25 years," he said. "You feel like such a failure because you couldn’t figure out a way to sell more to keep him working and your mission becomes – I just want to keep my guys working. He leaves the office and you feel like you’ve been punched and you are a little woozy .
"Nothing prepares you for that, but you can’t really talk about it because you still have your job. What do you have to complain about?
P.S. Bartos said that the experience influenced him in his new role, because he wants to build a business that will ultimately hire a lot of people. So far, since the start, the company has hired 175 and it is actively seeking 40 more people.
Click here to read Monday's blog post on Bartos.