“Bradford, you’re fired!”

Jun 15, 2024 | Blog

“Bradford, you’re fired!” – by William W. Woodbridge

Author of “Bradford, You’re Fired!”, William W. Woodbridge

In the January, 1918 edition of Business Philosopher Magazine, this story by William W. Woodbridge was printed. It’s a story of getting right with yourself. I fell in love with it, and wanted to share it with you.

“Success is a seed that can grow wherever it’s planted; what we’re looking for is a place to start sprouting. Now go to it and win!”

Here’s the story of John Bradford , salesperson for the Continental Dry Good Company:

“Bradford, you’re fired!”

** ** ** ** **

The door had opened silently behind me. I turned from the cards that were spread on the table before me, and looked into the stern eyes of James T. Mather, sales manager of the Continental Dry Goods Company.

“You don’t mean—” I stammered.

“Exactly that, Bradford,” answered my employer, closing the door behind him.

“We’re through with you, and there will be another man in your territory next week. I have written you time and time again, I have given you advice, I have tried to awaken some ambition in you—but to no avail. A man like you needs the feel of steel before he amounts to anything. So I’m giving it to you straight. You’re fired, fired because you are not worth the expense money it takes to keep you in the territory. We’re through with you for all time, Bradford! You’re a failure!

And he turned and left the room.

** ** ** ** **

I sat, looking dumbly at the cards spread out face up before me.

Mechanically I began counting off threes, placing a card here and there, as the game of solitaire demanded.

Fired?

Well, that didn’t matter much.

I had been fired before.

I had my own little philosophy.

We live but once.

Why not get out of it all there is in life while we live it?

Thus I argued that fateful afternoon in March.

And this was the evolution of my philosophy:

Living but once, we must get all there is in life as we pass along.

All of what?

Pleasure!

And what is pleasure?

The having of a time, a big time. a regular bunch of regular fellows.

Work?

Sure, for we must work to live, and must live to have our regular little old times.

Work—but not too hard, for why be a slave?

No man gets what he is worth—for the boss can’t pay enough—can’t afford it.

So work just enough to pay for what you do—or just enough to stimulate the chances for a raise.

But live—be no slave—live!

See life, for we pass this way but once.

When we die we are a long time dead.

So live the life while the living’s good.

And this was my philosophy—and the philosophy of my kind. I had a good time. I was popular.

My friends thought me a success—such a success as my philosophy breeds.

But the gloom of the room, this chill March afternoon, seemed to enter my soul.

I went over to my grip in the far corner of the room.

The half filled bottle there would give me courage to face another fight for a place.

Another job!

It would be hard sledding, finding a place.

My record was against me.

But then, I was rather clever at landing positions.

I laughed mirthlessly.

“Here’s luck, Bradford,” I said to myself, raising the bottle to my lips, “a better job and an easier one.”

And with my bottle as companion, I returned to my game of solitaire, in the gloom-light of the room.

** ** ** ** **

My thoughts were drab.

I had been expecting for some time to lose out on this job. The line was a hard one—too many trunks to pack, too many hick towns to make. But I had no idea that old Mather himself would drop in on me. Come right into my room without knocking! What right had he to do that any way? Suppose I was playing solitaire in the middle of the afternoon. Can’t a man ever take a few minutes off, when he’s been traveling all the night before on a road that has no Pullman service? Should a man let his boss kick him around like an office boy?

So I took another drink to encourage my resentment against Mather and the Fates that had brought him spying on me while out on my route.

The Fate had always been against me. I’d never really had a fair show in life. I was a man of temperament. How could a hard money-making plug like Mather appreciate the finer feelings of a man like me? Mather was a self-made man, coarse of soul, selfish in all things, caring nothing for the men he ruled. He’d made good by driving men. That was his secret! Always driving us poor dogs of the road. What did he know of the “life”! A man without feeling, a self-made man.

And I took another drink.

Why, Mather was no gentleman! Imagine a man butting into your room without knocking. But then, he had none of the finer feelings. Why, his very education he’d picked up himself. If he’d been to college as I had, he’d have known how to treat a fellow being; but then, what can you expect from a slave driver, who worked up from the packing rooms? It was a good thing that I had quit a firm who hired such a man to handle the sales end. It was beneath a man of my breeding to be associated with such a concern. What would the frat boys have thought five years before, if they had known that I would ever have to look up to such a man as my superior?

And so I drained the last drop from the bottle.

I rose unsteadily from the table.

A great wave of resentment swept over me.

And in my heart, I damned Jim Mather, the man who had kicked me down.

I hated him with a hatred that was more intense than any emotion that had ever before entered my life.

The sun flamed like a red flag of resentment before me, as I stood swaying drunkenly there by the window.

And Mather’s words, as he had stood behind me, were still ringing in my ears:

“Bradford, you’re fired!”

** ** ** ** **

For a long, long time I stood there.

Plans of revenge began forming in my mind.

If that man Mather insisted on queering my game, I’d kill the brute.

Kill him!

What had I ever done to him, anyway?

He had always had it in for me, from the very start.

He knew that the territory he had given me was the worst in the country.

I wondered why I had taken all he said so meekly.

Well, it wasn’t too late now.

Mather was still in this hotel. I knew this. for there was no train out until midnight.

I’d go up and have a few words with this high-handed sales-manager of a tight fisted clothing house.

I’d have the satisfaction of showing him that no man could rub it into Me, just because he had a better job than I. 

And so I turned and stumbled across the room.

It was dark now.

I turned on the light, and went to the dresser, where my tie and collar had been discarded.

And then a strange thing happened, born perhaps of the distorted imaginings of a drink-crazed mind.

Instead of the reflection of one man, I saw two there in the tall mirror before me, two men, images of myself, and each of them looked me in the face.

I stared amazed!

And as I looked, I saw one of the figures turn to the other, and point his finger at the companion figure’s face. Then I heard, as truly as I have ever heard anything, this strange incarnation of myself cry in a voice of force and conviction:

‘Bradford, you’re fired!”

“Fired?” whined the other, in a sniveling wail.

“Yes, fired! Get out of me! I’m through with you, now and forever. You’re a failure, through and through. Go! You’re my worst enemy. You’re ruining my business, you’re ruining my life. Bradford, you’re fired!”

The reflection of the second figure faded from the glass. The remaining man turned and smiled into my eyes.

Then the room swam round.

I clutched at a nearby chair.

Darkness smashed in around me.

I felt myself falling, falling, falling.

And then—oblivion.

** ** ** ** **

“Bradford, wake up!”

I turned restlessly on the hard floor of my room.

“Bradford, wake up!”

I opened my eyes and rose to a sitting posture. The dim light of early morning penetrated the drawn curtains. It was cold, and I was stiff and sore from my night’s sleep on the thin carpet.

“Bradford, wake up!”

And it was then I realized that it was myself who spoke, my true self.

I rose and walked unsteadily to the window.

The cards still lay scattered about on the table, as I had left them. The empty bottle, lay on the foot of my unused bed.

I threw open the window and drank in deep draughts of the crisp morning air.

The clouds of the night before were driven from my brain.

Then I turned and again approached the mirror.

I stood and looked at my reflection in the glass. My hair was matted on my forehead, my cheek was smeared with grime from the carpet where I had lain, my eyes were red with the drink of the night before, and my lips were dry and cracked.

I gazed at my reflection with a strange fascination. Could this be the culmination of twenty-eight years of developed manhood, this slinking, cowering figure of a bestial youth? And then I remembered the vision of the night before, and a strange conviction took possession of me, the conviction that the vision was a reality, that the night before I had actually seen what my befuddled memory now so persistently recalled to my drink-weary mind.

I leaned forward and peered into the eyes of my reflection—into the eyes of a man I hated and loathed, into the eyes of my one great enemy—John Bradford.

And then the great fight of my life began, the fight for possession of that which I had never before realized man possessed—the Super-self.

And to that cowering, slinking creature, that stood looking at me from the glass, I cried again:

“Bradford, you’re fired! I’m going to put another man on your job, and the man on the job will be my slave, and I will be a slave driver, for it takes a slave driver to make a success. Bradford, you’re fired! Get out of me, now and forever, for there’s a new man to take your territory, and I’m going to see that the new man makes good. For I’m going to drive that new man to success, I’m going to hound him, day after day, every minute of every day. And I’m going to own this other man, instead of his owning me. I’m going to be his boss, Bradford, and he will respect me and do my bidding. You’re a failure, Bradford. You had your chance, and you fell down. So you’ve got to go—forever, you and your philosophy with you. I’m through with you. Bradford, you’re fired!

But the face peered at me cynically from the glass. There seemed to be a sneer on his lips and the bloodshot eyes leered defiantly.

I felt my head swim again, as the face in the glass mocked me.

“You can’t fire me, you can’t fire me, you can’t, you can’t!” the eyes seemed to say.

“Then I can kill you!” I cried, and turning to my bed, I took the empty bottle and flung it with all my strength at the tall mirror.

There was a crash and a rain of tinkling glass.

And that is how I “fired Bradford.” Thus my real fight for success began.

** ** ** ** **

It was late in the afternoon when I descended to the lobby of the hotel.

Mather was sitting in the writing room.

“Mr. Mather,” I said, as I stopped by the writing desk, “I want to have a talk with you.”

“No use, Bradford.”

“I know it, so far as the old job is concerned. But I want to get you to give me some advice. You see, I have taken on a pretty big contract this morning, and I thought maybe you might help me out.”

He looked puzzled.

“Oh, very well,” he said, folding up the papers before him and rising, “let’s go out in the lobby, where we can talk unmolested.”

“Mr. Mather,” I began, when we were seated, “I have just been appointed sales manager for a mighty big concern, and I have a salesman working for me who is a hard man to handle. I am not used to being boss, and this fellow is one that requires pretty strict curbing.”

Mather looked at me in amazement.

“Say, Bradford, what is this, a joke?”

“I should say not, Mr. Mather, it’s grim reality. This man has a hard job ahead of him. He’s taking the place of a man who has the territory badly spoiled. The company had to fire the other fellow because he was a hard drinker, a gambler and a man who thought of but one thing, cheap pleasure. Now this new man who is to follow him has to remake the reputation of the house that the other fellow ruined. I think he’s got good stuff in him. But he’s got to be properly handled. He’s the kind of a chap that needs a tight rein. I’ve faith in him, but he’s going into a territory full of temptations and pitfalls, and I want to know what is the best way for me to help him make good for him self and for his house.”

Mather seemed interested.

“Bradford, if I had a man of that kind working for me,” he said, after a moment’s reflection, “I’d start right off by gaining his entire confidence. I’d make him feel that the house was with him. I’d talk with him whenever I could, get him to believing that the success of the business depended on his efforts. And, Bradford—I’d give that man so much work to do that he would have no time to loaf on his job, no time to find temptations, and no time for temptations to find him. I’d make work for him—to keep him going hard. Then if there was anything in him, it would crop out.”

“Thank you, Mr. Mather,” I said, as I rose to leave him.

“But, Bradford,” called Mather after me, “who is this man you are so interested in?”

“My Super-self,” I answered, “and his job is the selling of success, the success of John Bradford.”

Mather laughed unpleasantly. “I might have known you were trying to string me,” he said.

“Not a bit of it,” I replied. “Just wait till I have made a success of this man that I have become the boss of. Then you will admit that I am in dead earnest. Mather, I am serious for the first time in ten years.”

But Mather only laughed incredulously as I left.

** ** ** ** **

“Bradford,” I said to my Super-self, that night, “I’m going to talk this business over with you every day. I’m your boss now and I want you to know that I have every confidence in you. It’s a great thing to have the confidence of the boss. I’m going to be a hard boss, for I have your interest at heart. If you know this, and realize this, I believe you will succeed. After all, the success of any business depends on the boss and his relations with his employes. Am I right, John Bradford?”

And the John Bradford that looked at me from the mirror of my own room at home laughed confidently into my eyes.

“You see, Bradford, that last man I had working for ‘me was a slacker—always afraid he’d do more than his bit. For a while, I thought I had a good man working for me. But he pretty near ruined the company, and the best piece of work I ever did was when I canned him. And it‘s the only thing to do, old man. Fire ’em bodily when they don’t deliver the goods. You agree with me, don’t you, Bradford?”

And this new John Bradford agreed with me perfectly.

“Now, old man, we’ve got a good line of stuff to sell, but a rotten reputation to live down. That means we will have to sell our goods pretty cheap for a while, until we show folks what we have. But if you have confidence in the house, and will buckle under the load that I’m going to pile on, we’ll make a success of it, Bradford, you and I. Are you with me?”

And the eyes of my Super-self met mine squarely, and the battle was already half won.

** ** ** ** **

The next day I began the job of boss to my Super-self.

“Bradford,” I said to my Super-self, as we started out, “success is a seed that can grow wherever it’s planted; what we’re looking for is a place to start sprouting. Now go to it and win!”

And all day long, I drove my Super-self from place to place, always seeking employment, always being turned down. The whole town seemed to know of the old Bradford, who had lost six positions in less than three years. And so for a week, we plodded from office to office, always meeting with the same rebuffs, always refused consideration.

“Bradford,” I said Saturday night, after that hardest of hard weeks, “I am proud of you. While you have not succeeded in making a sale, you have succeeded in fighting off discouragement. Your courage is still as high as it was when we began work. Your confidence in the house is still undimmed. Old boy, I know you will make good. Stick to it, and we’re bound to win!”

** ** ** ** **

The Morton Drygoods Company was the largest wholesale concern in the city.

They travelled fourteen salesmen.

I had instructed my Super-self to call there first.

And Harry B. Wilson, the sales-manager, had refused to consider the application of John Bradford.

“Mr. Bradford,” he had said, “we need no more salesmen at this time, and I feel that I should tell you frankly that even if we did have a vacancy, we would not care to entertain your application.”

After two weeks of unsuccessful endeavor, I had another long talk with my Super-self.

“Old man,” I said, “there is something radically wrong with us, and I am going to confess that it’s largely the fault of the boss. You have been plugging along in great shape, doing just as I have instructed you to, but I failed you on your first call. No support from your sales-manager! We should have landed Morton. We’ll go back there and get that job.”

“But how?” asked my Super-self.

“A salesman never sold goods to a new customer until he got him to look over the samples. We’ve got to spread out the goods for him to see, and land some kind of an order, even if it’s a small one.”

** ** ** ** **

The next morning, I again called at the ofiice of Mr. Wilson.

“Mr. Wilson,” I began, “I made a great mistake when I called here last week.”

“Yes?” queried he.

“Mr. Wilson, I am going to work for the Morton Drygoods Company, regardless of salary, regardless of territory, regardless of the kind of work you put me to. I want to convince you that I can make good.”

“Maybe,” smiled Mr. Wilson, “you would like a job driving a dray? We’re paying our draymen three dollars a day.”

“When do I begin?” I asked.

Mr. Wilson laughed outright.

“You’re joking.”

“I am not joking! I want a job—quick— right away—now. Do I get it?”

Mr. Wilson looked at me for a moment in silence.

“Bradford,” he said, bluntly, “you’re a man with a bad reputation. While I never knew you personally before you came into the office last week, I’ve heard of you frequently. Your record is against you. It would be folly for you to try anything spectacular here. If you drove a dray, you would be a drayman and nothing else, with no hope of advancement and no help from me whatsoever. I do not want a man with a reputation like yours on my sales force! There are too many good men wanting jobs without gambling on recognized failures like yourself. With that understanding, of course, I can probably get you in as a laborer.”

That night, as I unfolded a package containing 21 new suit of overalls, I said to my Super-self:

“After all, it may look like a small order, but it’s a poor salesman who does not book an order because it’s too small. We’ve planted the seed. Now, it’s up to you make it grow. We’ll pick success from that bush yet, if a hard task master can keep you working. Are you with me?”

And my Super-self was true to his promise of the past.

** ** ** ** **

Six months passed.

I was a hard boss!

My Super-self was on the job always, a few moments before any of the rest of the crew.

He was the last to leave.

He kept his horses, his harness, his dray, in the prime of condition.

He took pride in his work.

He was a drayman.

Not much to be proud of?

It was his work, his livelihood, his life! And I was proud of my Super-self.

** ** ** ** **

Mather passed me on the street one day, as I was unloading packing cases onto the sidewalk.

“Bradford!” he exclaimed. “Isn’t this quite a comedown from sales-manager for a great concern?”

“Comedown? I should say not! I’m still sales-manager, Mr. Mather, and I’m making good!”

Mather laughed and passed by.

A few weeks later, Wilson sent for me.

“I want you to tell me,” he said, “just why you are a failure instead of a success. I’ll admit I have been watching you at your work, for a man of your standing is a novelty as a drayman. Bradford, you have made a good drayman. I congratulate you. Tell me, why did you make such a mess of it as a travelling salesman?”

“John Bradford failed as a salesman,” I answered, “because he had the wrong kind of a boss; he worked for a concern, not with it. He believed that he was giving more than he got. He lived for what he could get out of life, not what life would give him. John Bradford was a failure because his definition of success was wrong. John Bradford was a drunkard and a slacker. That’s why I fired him.”

“Why you fired him!” exclaimed Mr. Wilson.

“Exactly. I fired John Bradford! Literally kicked him out of my life. Then I became the boss of a new man, a clean man, a man who was interested in me. I became his boss, his sales-manager, and he’s worked for me ever since. No man is a success unless he has authority over something— and I now have authority over myself, my Super-self. And so I have already succeeded ——and this success must bear fruit in time. I have the patience to wait.”

“You are surely not expecting me to believe this?”

“Mr. Wilson, I realized that the old John Bradford was a failure. Mather, of the Continental, discovered it before I did. He fired John Bradford. I realized that if John Bradford was not a good enough man for the Continental he was not good enough for me! So I fired him too. I found and set to work a better man, a man in whom I could place every confidence. That is man’s first duty. The man who works for me now I believe in. He is a success. It may take years for the world to find it out; but it must in time, and so I am driving my Super-self, day after day, doing what there is to do as well as it is within our power to do it. Untiring energy, ambition, confidence, and a clean heart will win for any man! This I require of my Super self!”

The next day, I was offered a try-out with the Morton Drygoods Company, in the old territory where I had failed.

My Super-self worked manfully, and succeeded. It was hard work, but my Super-self had been trained by this time to love hard work. My old trade did not welcome me back into the field with any enthusiasm, but my Super-self and I made enthusiasm for ourselves. And orders began coming into the house regularly.

A raise in salary followed the first trip over the territory.

And so for two years I covered the field, and never once did my Super-self fail me.

And then came the proudest day of my life.

For it was then I received a letter from Robert G. Marshall, president of the Continental Drygoods Company, Inc., asking for an interview.

“Mr. Bradford,” began Mr. Marshall, when I was seated in his private office, “I understand that you once were in our employ.”

“Some years ago,” I replied.

“There seems to have been some very unfortunate mistake made, Mr. Bradford. Our records show that you were let out by our sales-manager, Mr. Mather.”

“Yes,” I replied, “Mr. Mather fired me.”

“Very unfortunate, Mr. Bradford, very.”

A silence for a moment, then—

“The territory you covered for us brought in very good business for about a year after you left it, but when you returned into that field for the Morton people, our business began to suffer. Would it be asking too much of you to tell me how much your sales from that territory amounted to this last season?”

I mentioned the amount.

“Mr. Bradford, I will be equally frank, and tell you that no two of our men sent in as much as that last season.”

Again the silence.

“I feel that I am not acting unethically, Mr. Bradford, in making you the offer that I am about to make, in view of the fact that you are really an old Continental man. We want you to come back with us. I sometimes think that perhaps Mr. Mather is not quite the man to handle our sales end, and I am wondering if you would care to consider taking the position of sales-manager for us.”

“Mr. Marshall,” I replied, “you are doing my good friend Mather a great injustice. My success in life is due altogether to the following of Mather’s advice and example. The best thing he could have done for you was to have fired John Bradford. In fact, I thought so well of it, that I did the same thing. I fired him myself.”

“What’s that? You fired John Bradford? Fired yourself?”

“Yes, Mr. Marshall, I did just that,” I answered. “And, as to accepting your offer, this I regret is impossible, as I have just accepted the position of sales-manager of the Morton Drygoods Company. I feel that I owe them too much to leave them now.”

And so James T. Mather is still sales manager of the Continental, and I am still boss—boss of my Super-self!

** ** ** ** **

And in this story of my rise, you may find the secret of success. If you have not succeeded, it is your own fault. First, realize that there is no success in life for you unless you are Boss. Be a Boss, a Man in Authority! Fire John Bradford, and put your Super-self to work! Make your Super-self serve you—and success is already within your reach. And when doubts and fears assail you, remember the weaker man is no longer on your force. You are the boss of yourself, of the Super-self, the inner man who waits to serve you. And what success has come to me in life is due alone to this talisman:

“Bradford, you’re fired!”


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Sales history is my hobby. If you want more, check out The Sales History Podcast wherever you get yours…or visit @saleshistorian on both X and Instagram for week-daily nuggets from sales history’s past…the big ideas, foundations, and sometimes strange approaches from the beginning of time until now.

My day job? I’m a sales keynote speaker (CSP®) who also teaches revenue organizations how to leverage transparency and decision science to maximize their revenue capacity. It’s what I do…teach sellers, their leaders, well…entire revenue organizations how we as human beings make decisions, then how to use that knowledge for good (not evil) in their messaging (informal and formal), negotiations, and revenue leadership. I wrote a book Book Authority listed as the 6th best sales book of all time (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘺 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘦), and a second award-winning book (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘦𝘴 𝘓𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘦𝘳).

Reach out if you want to discuss The Transparency Sale sales methodology, or really…anything else (sales kickoffs, workshopskeynotes, the economy, history, etc.)! Email info@toddcaponi.com or call 847-999-0420.

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