I Just Got Fired!

“Calling all the people here to see the show
Calling for my demons now to let me go
I need something, give me something wonderful”

As someone who almost opted to become a professional DJ, it’s fortunate that my favourite song of this year is Love and Hate by Michael Kiwanuka, with the lyrics above.

Last Monday, I was on a panel in front of 100+ young students and managers who were participating in a competition that Tata sponsors annually called TBLA. The theme was big data, and since I led this group wide initiative by setting up a new company focussed on data analytics, the participants were quizzing me on its potential. Suddenly, a colleague comes and whispers in my ear that Chairman Cyrus Mistry has been asked to step down. My head jerks – what? But I am on a panel, so keep answering the questions but signal to the facilitator that we need to wrap this up early. I let the organizers know that I will skip the dinner that follows.

Back in my apartment trying to get information from the company with little success. At 9:00 pm, I get a call from a colleague with whom I had worked very closely and got along famously as we were often on the same side of arguments. He informs me: “it is my unpleasant duty to say your services are no longer required”. No explanation. I query does this mean I do not need to show up tomorrow morning? Receive an affirmative reply. That’s it. It’s all over in a minute. Now readers, no pity is needed. It is something that has happened to many, and there are entire reality shows on TV built around the theme “You are fired!” But, still nothing prepares you for this. I realize that I am unemployed for the first time since the age of 18.

My first thoughts go to the 70+ people I had accumulated in the Big Data team over the past year. What is going to happen to them? They joined on my word that we were going to make this a core capability of the group. Quickly, I shoot off a text message to a colleague with a plea to take charge of this venture. My four-member team, I am less concerned about as they are enormously talented and familiar enough with the group to land on their feet.

“You can’t break me down
You can’t take me down”

The following morning, what to do? Well, a bit lost, and ready at 8:30, instead of the usual 8:00, I head for my morning Starbucks coffee. I find a new proposition for Starbucks that never occurred to me previously: a place for unemployed managers, all dressed in suits, with nowhere to go. Yes, there is the office to clear out and a final settlement to be agreed on, but I am in no mood to go to Bombay House for this. It can wait for another day.

Once fired, you discover your friends and the integral qualities of those who worked with you. The interesting insight for me was that the higher in the organization you go, this “human” aspect declines. The people at the “bottom” of the pyramid treated me with the same respect and affection as always. Their smiles were genuine and open. Those in the middle, like my team were sincerely sad to see me go.  They repeatedly mentioned what fun it was to have worked with me. It was not as if I was fired for non-performance (my last evaluation was excellent). I always do my best – it’s the least I expect from myself and the most anyone can expect from me. I was fired for just being there at my position – working intensely and extensively with Cyrus.

The reaction at the top of the pyramid was interesting. With three exceptions, the many CEOs and top executives I worked with closely for three years went silent. I wonder what it is that the more we have, the more we become prisoners at the thought of losing it, rather than having it set us free. The lesson for my team was clear. I told them these people have made it to the top. They know how the system works. When in future anyone mentions me, please don’t say anything positive. Throw me under the bus to gain credibility in the new regime. It’s my parting advice.

“You can’t steal the things that God has given me
No more pain and no more shame and misery”

Despite the unceremonious and un-Tata like end, I have nothing negative to say about the Tata group. It was not the fault of the 670,000 Tata people and does not reflect on them. What I found exceptional about the group was the kind of person that Tata attracts – unpretentious and dedicated. Yes, they really drink, as we would say in America, the “koolaid” of Tata. But I observed how hard they work, and how committed they are to the group and its values. They deserve a great Chairman.

Finally, I really loved the job. It gave me, an academic, a ring side seat to a 100+ billion dollar group. The amazing discussions we had on what the group should look like in 2025, bouncing ideas back and forth, challenging each other, and then coming to a joint view and understanding of the potential portfolio 2025, after debating the trends and financial prospects. In my 30 year career, I had only three bosses who inspired me: Lou Stern, my PhD advisor at Northwestern University; Laura Tyson, my dean at LBS; and you. Thank you, Cyrus.

Let me end with the lines from Bruce Springsteen that were plastered on my walls as a teenager:

“Someday girl I don’t know when
We’re gonna get to that place
Where we really wanna go
And we’ll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
Baby we were born to run”

Well, folks, I am there, despite being unemployed. And, I am done running.



Magic Dust


84 Comments Add yours

  1. This hurt

    & sucks
    big time!!

    break a leg!



  2. Shocking. Surely there could have better ways for the TATA group to have handled this situation.

    Quote tweet by @RajanNS “A captain is tested best when the seas are turbulent for perhaps anyone can sail if all is calm and quiet.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RAJEEV says:

      Tata,s should have found a dignified way to deal with the situation . Unfair way to treat a person of high calibre.


  3. Rahul says:

    Well written

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Magesh says:

    Well-articulated, on a very sensitive matter.
    Straight from heart with meaningful Insight
    Few examples given are really an eye opener “The higher in organisation you go this human aspects declaim “.
    Very rightly gave parting advice to colleagues
    “When in future anyone mentions me, Pl don’t say anything positive .Throw me under the bus to gain credibility in the new regime.”
    One never know what is going to hit, all happens suddenly like a Road accidents.
    “You can’t break me down, you can’t take me down “

    One has to pick up the pieces of life after an accident and move on in life, instead of brooding .


  5. Smita says:

    Always nice to see someone you thought of as a hard nosed professional, baring their emotions. Being fired hurts, even if it’s just collateral damage. Can feel your pain. I’m in the Tata group too trying to make sense if it all….. so am going to add a song of my own… Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin.

    PS- still can’t get over ‘Professional DJ’!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kashyap Muthuswamy says:

    Dear Sir, Very well written. The ruthless politics of the corporate world are , all at once shocking and pitiful. As you rightly observe, people at the top of the hierarchy tend to be more petty and territorial. Wish you a bright future.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Very well articulated article


  8. Paula Eriksson says:

    Sad to hear that this great venture ended this way, even if your panache is admirable. “You can’t steal the things that God has given me” – their loss! Best wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hemang Shah says:

    “I wonder what it is that the more we have, the more we become prisoners at the thought of losing it, rather than having it set us free” – That sums up what you have tried to convey so beautifully. All the best for the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nagesh Alai says:

    A doused fire of light only leaves behind obfuscating smoke of dark. Just stay lit with equipoise.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Anonymous says:

    Dear Nirmalya,

    It is a pleasure to know you and I want to thank you for the insight you added to our discussions on strategy. This situation is unfortunate, and I am sorry that it has happened. I wish you well and hope we stay in touch.

    with best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

  12. anjeneyan says:

    I read your blog with great interest. Not able to make much sense out of the happenings in Tata Group. In the fight between promoters, all or most other stakeholders lose. There are unexpected consequences like the ones you have described.

    Best wishes for your future endeavors

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Anonymous says:

    You articulated so well and with honesty. Wishing great success for the future. Hope what you started will be successful.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. thenewagedad says:

    Mr. Kumar, though it would very immature of me to even begin comparing my situation to yours, but I do feel what it’s like to me prematurely unemployed. I am very planned with my professional life and for the first time, since 20, I don’t have a job.

    But I have taken this opportunity to spend quality time with my two month old daughter.

    This too shall pass. I wish you the best for the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. BIMAL BHATT says:

    Truth has to come out, otherwise people will lost the trust.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Charanjeev Singh says:

    Well written, inspiration for many mid level corporate leaders like me.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. anand says:

    Very Objective & Dispassionate Ways of Talking About What Has Transpired ~ Well Said Sirjee!!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Anonymous says:

    Nice and well written article.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. G C Biswal says:

    Nice and well written article. This is something highly unexpected from Tata Group.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Mrinal Krant says:

    Employee of TATA group or employee of Mistry? Is this the way TATA group considers professional’s hiring and firing? Shameful! I thought only cheap, petty employers did this. Nirmalya is gone, Rajan is out! Are there any loyalists of Mistry or Nirmalya or Rajan left within TATA group? Fire them too. Who all at TATA group decide these ethic cleansing kind of bloodbath? This is insane and unlawful!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Dr Prasad says:

    Very well written honest and open. The statement made following your insight “The higher in the organisation you go this human aspect decline” is the truth I realised in our NHS ( health) organisation which is supposed to be most humane atmosphere. When one reaches a top position with his/her own talent and hard work nothing stops them to start a new best thing in life. Change is a fear but once we overcomes be that and progress with new venture sky is limit. All the very best and there be something better that you are about to achieve as long as you keep your spirits high and self confidence to move forward.
    What doesn’t break you will make you strong” 👍


  22. WELL friend , i spent 5 yrs in the Army from 79 to 84, I am still in touch with the present team of OFFRS and MEN despite 32 years of gap , once you work as a team , it is rather difficult to part . The parting should always be respectful and dignified in all aspects . I am perhaps a stranger to you , but i have my good feelings and support for you that you have been aggrieved and hurt by this unethical act by the so called Tata group . Carry on with your good work and positive attitude . Cheer up


  23. Really sorry to witness this outcome Professor, we all comprehend your pang sir. Clearly remember when we first met at Tata Chem and you probed me for one hour for a scheduled thirty minutes chat… loved the enthusiasm and the open mind you brought to the table, as a leader.

    It is hard to leave things incomplete when you have worked tirelessly to put it together brick-by-brick. Perhaps, the ‘reverse brain drain’ doesn’t work! If anywhere, it should have worked here.

    Wish you best of luck and we are that much poor to see you walk out of that door.


  24. Anonymous says:



  25. connect2hc says:

    The positive energy exuded by this blog post is not only truly inspirational but also an excellent lesson in how to handle setbacks in life. Especially when the things that happen, happen so very suddenly and are so seemingly unfair. Who was right and who was not in this case will not really be that important in the long run. What will eventually be important is how the one who was thrown in the deep end of the pool took it as. History has proved innumerable times, time and again, that nothing beats being positive amidst negativity.


  26. Karrthik Srinivasan says:

    The more i hear about this sordid saga the more i am convinced that this episode is purely driven by a personal rivalry between Cyrus mistry and ratan tata there is no pther plausible explanation. it reflectlects very poorly on ratan tata. the manner of firing is totally unbecoming and the loser is ratan as he has once and for all stripped the chairmanship of its eminence he is suffering from old age related problems and umable to digest the success of mistry very sad day for indian business all the good deeds done by ratan tata has been wasted by this high handed behaviour history will remember him


  27. Nikhil says:

    Nirmalya, It is certainly disheartening. I can feel the pain & anger behind this. I suppose things are past now.

    Look at the bright side. Now, you are a blank slate again. Look for the Opportunities. Find the thing which you love and passionate about.

    You can surely look to open up your venture in Data Science & Analytics.


  28. Prince says:

    “I wonder what it is that the more we have, the more we become prisoners at the thought of losing it, rather than having it set us free.” – Can be made a placard.

    “The interesting insight for me was that the higher in the organization you go, this “human” aspect declines” – so true. As a GM, even I see it easier to interact with people at the bottom, while the managers are plastic.


  29. Jagadish- BHEL says:

    Nirmalya- Are you looking for sympathy?
    I am sure these insights and feelings would not have crossed your mind when you were firing one or more ( Oops! Let go ) of employee’s reporting to you directly or indirectly. It definitely hurts when it happens to oneself.
    Corporate Managers are stone -faced, heartless and ruthless when communicating the “Let go’ news. You should be glad that they did not walk you out personally out of the door in plain view of colleagues.
    If you are strong ( only time will tell) you will sulk and lick your wounds and ego and publish, but will be ready to fight the next battle.
    So be a Man! Or a Woman! – depends on your Emotional Intelligence Quotient.
    Move On and find another gullible Corporate Management


  30. Mr. Nirmalya Kumar, I am sad on reading your honest expression. Yes these things do happen in corporate world and you are one of casualty in a war occurs between two strong leaders. Even a CEO retires or leave job, new CEO makes changes to bring his trusted persons and kills aspiration of existing many talented top level executives which you might have observed while in service. As said by yourself,you are not fired for bad performance,but fired for just being in core team selected by Mr Cyrus You have to accept the fact of corporate life and move on. I know, it is not easy when one is deeply hurt. Just forget past,take family on tour for a fortnight and come back refreshingly. Think and take future steps for your sake and family. Talented person like you with high profiled resume will be welcomed by any organization. I do not know whether Ratan is right or Cyrus since I have no inside knowledge. I wish you all the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. SRM says:

    Nirmalya, being sane when things are sane isn’t gr8. Being sane when things go insane is gr8. Admire your handling of the situation and how you put your thoughts here. Am sure your team will do well. I am grooming a BigData team for an IOT platform startup with meager resources, yet all the support from the founders. You have built a gr8 team which is probably a bit unsure of what is in store. Life is full of paradoxes. I never comment on blogs. But this made me do so …


  32. Vrinda Kini says:

    Well written. Brought back heartbreaking memories of suddenly losing my job to downsizing at one of the group companies. A group where people come first!


  33. SS says:

    What positivity..I never comment on blogs…This one’s just got me hooked..


  34. kamrupablog says:

    Sir, Great Words…But thousands facing similar circumstances in the PVT SECTOR era do not have wisdom and resources to withstand. Is hiring and firing fashionable?


  35. Chandramouli says:

    Dharma (principles ) is not upheld by Ratan/TATAs.

    Artha and Kama (for power and Ill advise from Trust satraps..Bawas..) have blinded Karma….

    Signs of Kaliyug..lakshana..s….


  36. Quraishi says:

    Hi Nirmalya,

    Well written and clearly shows the quality & capability! The fact that I am writing to you is because I have faced a similar situation, though it wasn’t as unexpected as in your case but the end result is all the same. 🙂 It can happen in any organization and any group…….. I’m sure you will make it through this as the Almighty opens another door when he shuts one.

    Time is the biggest healer (though a bit philosophical but true) start hunting and keep going as when the going gets tough the tough gets going! and people with mettle will definitely find a place to settle around. Don’t lose hope and heart.

    Wish you all the best!


  37. The ways tata exited cyrus: a culture less road side shop owner kicks out his labourer from the job.

    Like the age old movie industry story: The successful producer or director or the hero, neck deep into relation (emotional)with the prostitute – Lost everything including his family, money, health and bedridden- Ready to Die: Is tata emotionally in relation with Nano? Did that lead to the peril (of losing character and business acumen)

    What tata(‘s) lost: Credibility, Corporate culture, Trust (Majority Indians trust tata’s as ethical), Value (an all round proposition)

    What tata gained: Ability to take temperamental indecisions, a new engine to their bogeys called as ’emotion engine’, capability to loose easily to competitors, bad press and publicity

    Hey Nirmalyakumar- keep your heart and mind ‘Nirmal’ in this period of shock and fire (Oh you were fired, right!)


  38. Prabhakar says:

    So, even as an established “thinker” in professor thinks as to “… what it is that the more we have..”, do following too need to be rethought?
    – Is it that at all levels of intellect, the loyalties, irrespective of its oneness, have to pay the price? Another story that it perhaps may not even be considered as a “price to pay”.
    – Isn’t someone’s superiority of knowledge and passion of targeting objectivity sufficient to generate an independent sense of respect free of fear of who this “someone” worked for?


  39. Arjun says:

    Emotional n touching,its opening for a new opening ,now you can be creator of new creations


  40. MG says:

    Dear Nirmalya,
    A very well written article. Sad to hear your comments. I did work with the group for a long time in Bombay House and left in 2009 when I was CIO of the largest group Company . I do understand when you speak about unpretentious and committed employees as I have worked around the globe and have not yet found that kind of a commitment . The group has been extremely lucky till now that some big bets have paid off and still is powerful but it’s definitely complicated at the top . Truly a loss to the group . Next 20 years will be very crucial as they will be make or break.


  41. Rajeev Roy says:

    It is really sad to to see this happening at TATA, a company which most Indian professional admire for its ethics and for corporate governance.


  42. Shankar says:

    Written with great dignity and sensitivity. Certainly not what characterised your exit, sadly!


  43. Well. Nirmalya, your true friends are visible when you get fired. When I expressed myself on Facebook on hearing the news about Cyrus, very few of my friends in Tatas responded. They were perhaps too scared to be found out that they knew a consultant who held his own views about the top of the Tata totem pile. No surprises here. Your true friends become known when you say it like it is, and don’t pander to the powers that be.
    But there is a good reason behind this. The first casualty in a coup is often the truth.
    Good luck to you. You were one among the GEC who I believed deserved to be part of that stratospheric group.

    Below is what I wrote on my FB page the day the news was released:

    This is a day the founder, Mr J N Tata, would not be proud of. I felt it coming. For years now, I have been lamenting the crushing burden of bureaucracy, the lack of leadership development and meaningful succession planning at Tatas. At every other workshop, I would mention the unmentionable – that there was a bankruptcy of leadership at the very top. My views were deeply unpopular.
    I would repeatedly to my close contacts at Tatas that apart from TCS, and to some extent JLR, the group has little to be proud of in the last fifteen years. All other Tata firms are ho-hum entities. Tatas have touted Economic Value Added – EVA. Well, only TCS and JLR can claim any real EVA.
    Tatas have become like Laura Ashley and Firestone, suffering from genetic blindness. Head Office and the operating units have extraordinarily poor coordination and show little respect for one another. An example can be found in Tata Management Training Center at Pune and Tata Management Development Center at Jamshedpur. The two entities, whose objectives cannot be vastly different, do not talk to each other. So what if TMTC is meant to develop leadership at the group level, while TMDC is meant to develop leadership for Tata Steel? The entrenched turf mentality, spawned over the years will simply not allow rich exchange of ideas. Why is there not one development center for the whole group like GE’s Crotonville facility?
    Soon after Ratan Tata donated $50 Million to Harvard, and had a satisfying interview with Charlie Rose in the USA, Tata Management Development Center (TMDC) in Jamshedpur was asked to vacate its rented premises at XLRI and move atop a branch of State Bank of India! Tata Steel owns Jamshedpur, yet management could spare neither space nor RS 5 Crores to house TMDC in a sylvan surrounding. One can only imagine how excited Tata Steel staff feel attending training atop a branch of a public sector bank. I begged of the CEO, even before he became CEO, to address this. His promise is pending.
    There is a great deal of contrived politeness – a sign of entrenched aristocracy – so much so that problems are rarely tackled boldly. There is also a laziness at the top. In spite of its fine record for ethical behavior, executives find themselves victims of their bosses’ deep shortcomings, with no support from the top. It needs effort and courage for the top dog to confront his divisional heads.
    Top executives can only be mentioned in hushed tones and in a positive light. Neither criticism nor feedback is received respectfully. I should know; when I shared my thoughts about Ratan’s legacy with Tata executives, they seemed singularly uncomfortable. In other words, the top executives are exempted from upward or external feedback. You ignore it at your own peril.
    The group spends enormous sums of money in its TAS (Tata Administrative Services) program, in which very bright candidates are hired and apprenticed for two years. And then, they are simply forgotten! Very little is done to then nurture, nourish, and carve career paths for these talented youngsters. The people responsible for setting this right have done little in the last four years to improve the lamentable state of affairs of TAS graduates post training.
    Ratan Tata’s legacy is questionable. He has created a lumbering giant that can barely bear its own weight though it has a global footprint. The culture of sycophancy is well and alive. It demands that executives look up with reverence whether it be deserved or not. It is a classic example of KISSA KURSI KA.
    The investments in Corus and more recently, Aviation, are poorly considered and highly dubious. A bit like Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines. Nice to tout –tough to profit from.
    Cyrus Mistry should not have waited for this day to arrive. If he was unable to deal with the legacy of Rata Tata, he should have stepped down, instead of being asked to step down. That is leadership. Being pushed out is not leadership. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, they say.


  44. Sreedhar Krishnan says:

    Shocking…. This ain’t the way. Is TATA Group loosing ethics?


  45. Quite aptly said “Once fired, you discover your friends and the integral qualities of those who worked with you. The interesting insight for me was that the higher in the organization you go, this “human” aspect declines. The people at the “bottom” of the pyramid treated me with the same respect and affection as always. Their smiles were genuine and open. Those in the middle, like my team were sincerely sad to see me go. They repeatedly mentioned what fun it was to have worked with me. It was not as if I was fired for non-performance (my last evaluation was excellent). I always do my best – it’s the least I expect from myself and the most anyone can expect from me.”

    The above resonates so much. I’m sure there a ton of people who can understand and identify with the sentiment and quite literally the statement! Sad to to see this turn of events at such a “Professional Organization”.


  46. Anand says:

    Prof Nirmalya,
    Good post, but wonder why my mind says – ‘there he goes again!’. You taught us briefly at IMD Lausanne and I interacted with you later and never in life I saw such an egocentric, arrogant, self-praising and demeaning-to-others. super-intelligent person. Always very impressed by you & wanted to imitate your brilliance – but don’t have any sympathy or pity for you in this case, very different from multiple less-advantaged, less-smart people that you fired or supported firing in the past, without any qualms. All the best to you and yes, thanks for showing how to write a great blog-post and learn from it… yet again!


  47. Abhinandan says:

    Guessing from your blog that you have rightly moved on & your humour is still intact, so here we go 😀

    Summary of Past :
    Love your job. But don’t love your company. Cuz you may not know when your company stops loving you !
    ~Dr. Kalam 🤔

    Best advise in present :
    You have nothing to prove anything to anyone anymore.You don’t need to justify. It wasn’t your fault. Move on. Do what you like. Enjoy. You were cut for better and more meaningful things. Take control of your life back.
    ~ my closest buddy 👏🏼

    Professional Goal :
    Given a chance, what kind of work can you do for free? Time to explore your real passion & make living out of it !
    ~ some movie I watched recently 👍🏼

    Personal Goals :
    -Travel solo to Machu Picchu !
    -Learn how to bake !
    -Find the abs hidden beneath the fats !
    -Surprise Diwali visit to parents !
    -Read 2 books/week !
    -Attend wedding of all friends in Q4 16!
    ~bucket list Oct 16-Dec 16 🎉

    Some trivia in this phase :
    -We find it cool to declare ourselves unemployed but it hurts if someone else calls us the same on our face 😩
    -Soon we start thinking of all the people we fired and their state of mind 🙈
    – We were so central to everything till yesterday that showing up 5 mins late in a meeting took us to a long guilt trip but soon we realise it was unreal 🤓

    My overall take on the firing thing : Getting fired once early in career helps to get the priorities right in life early & I guess it is still better late than never 🙃

    Unemployed & Feeling Awesome 😎


  48. Arwa Zaki says:

    The only thought running through my mind for a couple of days was about the rights and wrongs in this messy situation. Just like every other news agency, I have been trying to understand what could possibly have triggered this.

    Well, your post has actually made me realise that there is a bigger lesson to this. It’s the ‘human’ side that should never be lost. No wonder we HRs are hated all across. You tend to become mechanical. Today, I realised that this is applicable to the entire top management too.

    “Throw me under the bus to gain credibility in the new regime.” this statement makes me remember all my discussions that I have had with my peers on ethics. Another data point to validate my views:)

    These takeaways I will gift-wrap and keep with myself for as long as I work! Thank you!


  49. rajendra bhirud says:

    Loved reading every word of this article. This made me realize the how gracefully you are responding to the event happened to you. Hats-off sir!


  50. Jagadish says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am sure this firing will have zero effect on you and man of your capabilities will soon find another path. What is perplexing is why Mr Mistry was fired despite doing a good job of giving underperforming tata companies clear direction. Please share your views


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