Columnist Lee Schafer provides short takes on economic incentives and choices, business strategy and performance, market moves, what business leaders are saying and doing and other topics that pique his interest.

Firing someone physically unable to work - not the way to build a winner.

Posted by: Lee Schafer Updated: October 7, 2013 - 2:00 PM

In June 2009 I shared a table at lunch with Drew and Adam Bledsoe of a small firm called Bledsoe Capital. The occasion was an exclusive investor conference at the Sheraton Hotel just outside the main entrance of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Adam was a smart and engaging investor, but Bledsoe Capital was an insignificant player in the venture business. They should have been relative nobodies at this conference like I was, as it was dominated by Silicon Valley venture partners and the likes of Google and General Electric Co..

They would have been, too, were it not for the fact that Adam’s brother Drew Bledsoe was well-known in the room as a former National Football League quarterback.  Drew Bledsoe had even been invited to speak.

Bledsoe got up after lunch and joked a bit with the audience about his athletic career, but he mostly played it straight. He chose to talk about how small investors like he and his brother tried to support entrepreneurs with time and connections from personal networks, and not just capital.

He only brought up his football experience to make a point once, talking about an injury during the second game of the 2001 season. Later I learned that it was a collision that severed an artery in his chest, nearly killing him.

As he explained that afternoon, he recovered quickly. By then another player on the New England Patriots had taken over his position. He never got it back.

Losing his job when he was unable to perform physically, he said, wasn’t right. It’s performance on the job that should matter. “It’s not the way you build a winning organization,” I remember him saying.

The reason this comes to mind is that the Minnesota Vikings face such a decision, also at the critical quarterback position. Christian Ponder, the incumbent, has a rib injury. The team has just found another proven player at Ponder’s position, and with a capable backup already on the team, it appears all but certain that Ponder has lost his job.   

Eight years after his own injury, losing his job as a result still bugged Drew Bledsoe.  And, as a question of management, it’s not the way you build a great organization. 

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