Should I stick with a failing business out of loyalty to my boss?

I could jump ship, but it doesn't quite feel right.

Published January 16, 2007 10:37AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have been working in a pretty cool job for a few years. There are many pluses -- I supervise a team of people whom I genuinely like, the office atmosphere is dynamic and sometimes even fun, and most importantly, my boss is the best I've ever had. The downside is that we've been working on products that for the past year have been failing miserably, and the future doesn't look all that bright.

My boss, ever optimistic, finds the dough to keep things going ... but barely. The twist is that I am being courted by a good friend who owns a fledgling company with great potential (it made more money in two months than my current company's biggest product ever has), and I love what this new company is all about. I would miss many things about my current job, for sure, but I don't want to go down with the ship.

My biggest hesitation -- I am such a loyal person, I can't even begin to think about telling my boss I'm leaving! I will be hard to replace, and my leaving could possibly have fatal implications on our company (not exaggerating!) My boss hired me to bring his vision of the product to life, and now I'm abandoning it before its fate is truly played out. And I love this guy. Not at all in a romantic way, but he has really been a pleasure to work for -- intelligent, compassionate, wickedly funny and never a tantrum!


Loyal to a Fault

Dear Loyal to a Fault,

As I read your letter, I am put in mind of the deep and vexing contradictions posed by capitalism and the culture of the individual -- how work brings us poverty, how individualism crushes the individual. We work and we get paid. If you work, you can eat; you can live in a building; you can have a family, community and friendship. If you don't work, you can't eat. You can't live in a building. You live outside with the dogs. We step over you on our way to work, our salvation, our holy calling.

We put work ahead of everything else. We put work ahead of friendship. And this buys us a kind of faceless poverty.

It is no wonder that brilliant minds have ranged far and wide to find a way out of the amoral Olympics of capital, have sought to organize human industry in a way that feeds everyone and honors our nature as a species and rewards the virtues of loyalty and selflessness. But those other ways do not seem to have worked. They seem to have brought only more poverty and hopelessness, mass murder and totalitarianism.

So we say, this is the nature of the free man! We want better appliances, and that's that! If we find a better deal, we go across the street. Nothing personal, it's just business. If we find a better job, we take it. Nothing personal, it's just business. If we want to change our organization, we fire people and get new people, like changing the furniture or the drapes. Nothing personal, it's just business. This is how we operate. No one sheds a tear: not the firer, not the firee. You would do the same, wouldn't you? That is how we figure it. We are all playing the same game.

So you are thinking of staying on the sinking ship out of loyalty? Loyalty to your boss? Loyalty to an individual? That's not how the game is supposed to be played! We worship individualism, but we do not care for individuals! If he is failing, he is supposed to be punished, shunned, abandoned and despised. That's the way the system works! What you are proposing is subversive. What is to become of our system if people place personal loyalty above loyalty to the system?

Don't worry about your company. If its product has a market, and the company can execute its plans, it will survive. If it can survive as a business, it can survive your departure. There will be no hard feelings. You'll see your boss around town and join him for lunch or a cocktail, and he will call you now and then to ask if you know anybody who can help monetize his widgets.

And if the company does not succeed, you'll see him pushing a shopping cart down an alley somewhere. That is our glorious system, comrade!

If the ship is going down, you can only save yourself. Nobody is going to be loyal to you if you stick with this company and it fails. Nobody is going to congratulate you for sticking with it. They are going to wonder why you didn't see the signs and get out in time.

Now, OK, I know I exaggerate, for I am a dramatic type, and I am a ranter, and I am a little bitter. The world is not as kind as I wish, and I speak my pain to the world!

I am not a capitalist warrior, so I live warily and on edge. I am just a humble man trying to reach my quota, but I know better than to expect kindness from the system or to turn my back on it.

The system is a machine of whirling knives. Move with it or be shredded by its blades!

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