Val Hale | Crain's Utah

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Val Hale


Getting fired from a job is never fun, and Val Hale, executive director of the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development, learned this in a rather public way. He was suddenly dismissed in 2004 as the Athletic Director of his alma mater, Brigham Young Univeristy in Provo, Utah, after 22 years working for the school. Within a month, Hale had gained a vice presidency at Utah Valley University. He later headed the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, based in Provo. In 2014, Gov. Gary Herbert appointed him head of the GOED, which provides resources and support for the creation, growth and recruitment of businesses statewide.

The Mistake:

My mistake was [in] trying to be nice, I occasionally waited too long to make needed personnel changes.

There were times when I knew, and others around me knew, that certain changes needed to be made, and I dragged my feet doing it, because I liked these people and I wanted to be nice to [them]. At the end of the day, however, I realized it was actually hurting our organization, and probably that person, to have them remain.

When I was in athletic administration and I was the athletic director, it was my job to hire and fire coaches. That’s always a very difficult thing. It’s kind of like business, but at the same time you may have an 18-year-old young man that misses a field goal at the end of the game, and it costs you a bowl invitation. The fans, they don’t always care about those things; they just want a winning team.

The coach is always the one that incurs the wrath. It was hard sometimes letting good coaches go, but sometimes you have to do it. Waiting and dragging your feet doesn’t always benefit them or the program.

How you exit a job is probably more important than how you come into a job.

The Lesson:

I also learned, and firmly believe to this day, when you have to let someone go or move them to a different position, than maybe they want to be in, it’s really important do it with as much kindness and empathy and understanding as you can. It’s never an easy situation to let someone go. People say, ‘Well, it’s just business,’ [but] I don’t believe that. You’re talking about lives, you’re talking about families and you’re talking about careers. How people let others go can have a really dramatic impact on the employee’s life.

Once you realize that you’re in a situation where an employee isn’t doing what they need to do, you’re better off and the employee is better off to sit down and make the decision and move forward.

I left the BYU Athletic Department in a very visible and a very public dismissal, both myself and the women’s athletic director, Elaine Michaelis, who had been there for 44 years. She and I were both let go on the very same day. They didn’t even tell us ahead of time; they held a press conference. It was a really unfortunate experience for everyone.

How you exit a job is probably more important than how you come into a job. There were a lot of people waiting for me to go kicking and screaming – I just said, I’m not going to let this situation define me. I’m going to move on and be the best person I can be. Because I took that approach, these other doors opened for me. None of those doors would have opened for me had I chosen to be adversarial on the way out.


Follow Val Hale on Twitter at @UtahBusinessGuy.

Pictured: Val Hale | Photo courtesy Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development.


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