Fribble Good From the Bad

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By Selena Maranjian (TMF Selena)
February 14, 2001

The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances. -- Aristotle
I was sent the above quotation the other day by Fool community member Lydia Vorsteveld. The occasion was an event last week that you surely heard about: As part of an overall company restructuring, The Fool last week eliminated 115 positions and said good-bye to some wonderful employees. Here's the scoop in the form of a letter from David and Tom Gardner.

On the face of it, it's clearly bad, no? So many people out of work. (And even worse for many of them, they've lost a job they really loved.) So many people left to carry on without longtime colleagues and friends. So many community members missing their favorite TMFs. Still, I think there's a case to be made that it isn't all bad.

For starters, it's important to note that tough as this event was, it's not unusual. Layoffs can signal the beginning of the end for some companies. But for many big and small companies, they're what's needed in order to proceed and succeed. Look at any lasting organization and you'll likely find one or more times when it needed to contract, to reorganize, to rejigger itself. Layoffs can be a good sign that a company is taking necessary steps to improve its health and future.

Though we all knew layoffs were being discussed -- management was open with us in that regard -- the Fool's announcement of layoffs still left us all a bit shell-shocked. That was to be expected. But it also brought with it some surprises. I noticed that many of those who were red-faced with wet, puffy eyes had not been let go. Those of us staying were shaken, too. Many of those who were let go awed us with their incredible graciousness and understanding: "I'll be okay. Don't worry about me. The company had to do this. I understand." Wow. There's a lot of good in these people. People this good will survive. And thrive.

Last week, we departing TMFs and remaining TMFs alike saw our fearless leaders in a new way: they were as emotional and choked up as we were, if not more so in many cases. This was good to see, reaffirming that we're all in this together, that this is no cold and purely profit-driven enterprise. The layoffs have also reminded us about what's really important. We're more committed than ever to the success of our little company and to the fulfillment of our mission -- helping people the world over make better financial decisions.

We're taking our friends and colleagues for granted a lot less now, too. In my five years at this company, I've asked and been asked "How are you?" myriad times. But until lately, never so sincerely. We suddenly appreciate who we have around us a lot more.

Colleagues No More, But Friends Always

As the layoffs began to sink in, I headed to our discussion board community to see what people were saying and thinking. The first thing I noticed blew me away: Within just a few hours of departing, many of my now-former colleagues were already back on the boards and being classy as heck. Here's a smattering of just some of their many inspiring posts. (Click on the authors' names to read their entire posts.)

TMF Spirit: "I wish the Gardner Brothers and TMF much success in the future... 'I'll be back!'"

TMF Hunzi: "I may not be working for the Fool, but I'll still be here, and I'll be happy to help in any way I can."

TMF Bobdog: "I've had a great year talking with you folks here on the board..."

TMF Lou2: "I understand why this happened, and I want to Fool to succeed. I want it to thrive."

TMF Racer: "...my love and devotion for everything Foolish will live on forever no matter what roads we take"

TMF Maverick: "Let me say one thing about Tom and David Gardner, no one in the company was more torn up about the layoffs than they, and I feel very proud to have known them."

TMF/SBXJavadude: "I am still a HUGE fan of the Motley Fool, and all it stands for.... I will still be a Fool, and post, and support TMF."

TMFKitsune: "I know I will be okay, if for no other reason than that there are so many people sending good thoughts and prayers in my direction."

TMF Eyrie: "I would like to thank everyone who supports the Fool through their posts."

TMF Balder: "Being a Fool has been one of the great experiences of my life. I shall miss it."

TMF Merlot: "In hindsight, I'd do this all over again, even if I knew ahead of time that my tenure would be 6 months and one day short.... most of us would have stayed on a volunteer basis if we didn't need to eat. The Fool was extremely good to us and for us."

TMF VW: "If letting me go buys Pat, Dave and Tom (bless his adorable head [I can say those things now]) time to get the Fool shipshape, then I'm glad to sprint out the door."

TMF Radish: "Well said. Me too!"

TMF Weeble: "I saw David G. yesterday on the street and he was still very upset. I really hope everything works out for them."

TMF ExRO: "Rest assured that my jaundiced eye will still be looking for ways I can help people muddle through the Tax Code."

TMF Elan: "This was the most fun job I've ever had. I'll be seeing you as my former self."

TMF Nole: "Once again, I thank Dave and Tom and The Motley Fool greatly for the chance to be a part of such a thoughtful and innovative organization."

TMF Climb: "I've no regrets for the time spent here and wish only the best to the company and all my fellow TMFers."

TMF Amused: "The wonderful thing about an online community is that you really don't have to leave your friends behind."

TMF Jedi: "Nah, this isn't the end of the world. It's just the beginning."


The Community Responds

Many others in our community chimed in. (Again, click on authors' names to read the entire posts.)

wax: "I just wanted to use this small space to thank those once Foolish employees, for all they did for me. It has all been more appreciated than you will know."

Scorn6: "...I want to add a note to Tom, Dave, and all TMFers. All the ruckus on the boards today, no matter what it said, is recognition that you are important..."

JttjMc: "I will miss the postings by these dedicated and talented people. You created a community with your business."

JPLenny: "I hope in a few years, we will be talking about the bad times here, and how they paved the way for future success."

BornToRetire: "I do hope that the Fool can find a way to continue to balance commitment to the mission of the Fool, turn a profit... and maintain a workplace that respects the talents of many people in so many ways."

mrobert1: "So, you're right, let us not cry for them, but we can weep a bit for ourselves."

TMF Orangeblood: "The Motley Fool is a great place to work, and those 115 people were a big part of the reason."

TMF Jeanie: "I expect we'll continue to see our favorite Fools posting again here soon. The user names may be slightly different, but doesn't a rose by any other name smell just as sweet?"

TMF Edible: "The Fool has always been a family. You, the community, are fellow Fools. You are fellow family. We're all in this together."


Community Discussions on Our Business Model

Discussions about the layoffs on the board led to discussions about Internet business models in general, and The Fool's combined on- and off-line model, in particular. The posts below will lead you into some interesting discussions on what might and might not work for the Fool and for other businesses. As with the posts above, I'm just quoting a tiny, tiny piece. Click into the posts to read the authors' entire thoughts. (And share your own!)

Alan Adler: "TMF is by its nature an experimental venture. The company is exploring unmapped commercial territory... the effort requires manpower and a certain creative recklessness."

MichaelRead: "Would you pay a small yearly sum to be here? I would."

Goofyhoofy: "I would assure you that the ad market will come back. Painful as it is to know, a sudden downturn like this can actually have great benefit for the survivors, assuming that you are one."

TMF Bogey: "Questions: are we charging for the right things? Should we be bundling instead of a la carte? Should seminars and research reports be free and boards and content be paid for?"

hocus: "I wonder if the Fool is in the position of having built up two brands that are now in conflict with each other."

albaby1: "So - how 'bout a collection bucket at the front entrance?"

spl241: "I'll gladly pay for desirable services. TMF is just that to me."

blackmare: "I would NOT have signed up immediately as a paying Fool. It took me a month or two to even begin to understand what I had really discovered."

Cerumen: "Many of us want to help. Let us subscribe. Consider (I'm sure you already have) a subscription-based service, and make it donation based, a la PBS."

elann: "I think a much better model for thinking about TMF is a print magazine, not a restaurant."

PoorBloke: "This is too important a forum to die."

WonderPup: "Yes, there are other sites on the web, but something is keeping you here, not there. What is it?"

On that note, I'll close. I just wanted to share a bunch of perspectives on what has been going on around here lately. Know that the Fool is still very much here for you, and we don't plan on going away. In fact -- bolstered by the support of folks still here and recently departed, and reinvigorated by some innovative thinking by employees and community members alike -- the Fool may be on the brink of its greatest days yet. Stay tuned.

Fool on!