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A shallow look at celebrities who lost jobs

With so many jobs pruned from corporate payrolls in recent years, interest in the gestalt of being fired -- the hows and whys, the trauma and consequences -- is understandably high. Witness the surprising success of the television series "The Apprentice."

So who can resist a book packed with stories of business leaders, sports figures, politicians, and media bigwigs who survived sackings and bounced back? Unfortunately, "We Got Fired!. . . And It's the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Us," by motivational business author Harvey Mackay, promises more than it delivers.

The promise is planted on a book cover featuring rows of photos of personalities, from wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura and New York Yankees manager Joe Torre to talk show host Larry King and tennis champion Billie Jean King, and an opening chapter devoted to an interview with Donald Trump, the executive producer and star of "The Apprentice," and now the high priest of firings.

But the celebrity stories that make up the core of the book are thinly reported, heavy on name-dropping, and light on insight. Most are based on a single interview with Mackay and many leave the reader with more questions than answers.

Why was football coach Lou Holtz fired from the University of Arkansas? Mackay implies alumni pressures but never seeks to get to the bottom of it. Similarly, he suggests chicanery in the dismissal of Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus from his previous perch as chief executive of the Handy Dan Home Improvement Center. But he takes the Marcus version at face value, making no attempt to tell the other side of the story.

Some of the personalities profiled turn out never to have been actually fired. Trump "experienced far worse," Mackay writes, when he fell deeply into debt in the early 1990s and was slammed by the press and the financial community.

Mackay, author of the best-selling "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," begins his new book with a confession: He, too, was fired from his first job.

As the story unfolds, we learn that his habit of leaving early to play golf got him fired from a high school summer job at Howard's Men's Store in St. Paul, Minn., which he'd secured because the owner was a friend of his father. One lesson: "No matter what anyone tells you in a moment of kindness, don't forget you are there because someone else has pulled strings."

Many of Mackay's profiles contain lessons and wisdom similarly inapplicable to the average middle manager who lost his or her job in a corporate downsizing. Much of his advice can be summed up succinctly: If you're fired, don't sit around and stew. Rise up, find a new job, and move on.

This comes through clearly in his chapter on New England Patriots head football coach Bill Belichick, the two-time Super Bowl champion who was fired in 1996 by the Cleveland Browns. "Ownership makes their decision, whatever their reasons are," Belichick tells Mackay. "I don't worry too much about the decisions I can't control."

Robert Weisman can be reached at

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