Since 2013 I’ve updated this piece about the underappreciated and forgotten boss of A Christmas Carol, Mr. Fezziwig. I hope that you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!
Last week was the 180th anniversary of the publication of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (December 17, 1843). The immortal words of Ebenezer Scrooge are ingrained in the memory of the entire English-speaking world. I’d venture to guess that “Bah, Humbug!” can be correctly identified as to the source and speaker by over 99% of those reading this.
The novella, serialized in five parts, was not a commercial success. Unhappy with the sales of his previous novel (Martin Chuzzlewit– no wonder!), he refused his normal fee from the publisher in favor of royalties on the proceeds, which proved disappointing. Critical reception was favorable, although it didn’t catch on in America until much later. The New York Times first published a review in 1863, 20 years after its publication in England.
Like most of Dickens’ work, A Christmas Carol includes an indictment of the social inequalities of the Industrial Age; child labor, workhouses, and debtors’ prisons. It stands out, however, because of the lessons taught by its memorable ghosts, and the redemption of its main character in only 113 pages.
During the Protestant Reformation in England and Scotland, Christmas had become a period of penance and reflection. A Christmas Carol is credited by many for leading the return to a celebratory holiday, focused on appreciation and thanks for family and friends.
Modern filmmakers have returned to the straight-ahead plot and uplifting storyline (not to mention the recurring royalties available year after year) with a frequency that helps stamp the legend in our psyche. Starting with the 1938 Reginald Owen version (originally released as “Scrooge”) and the 1951 Alistair Sim classic, the character of Ebenezer has been tackled by actors ranging from George C. Scott to Michael Caine (with the Muppets). Patrick Stewart, Kelsey Grammar, and Rich Little (in various celebrity impersonations) have taken a shot, as have Mickey Mouse, Mr. Magoo, the Smurfs, Barbie, Dora the Explorer, and the Flintstones.
Let’s not forget the variants; Bill Murray in “Scrooged”, or Boris Karloff and Jim Carrey in their versions of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” In all, IMDB lists almost 200 filmed variants of the story.
Unfortunately, the characterization of Scrooge has become ingrained in the minds of many as a stereotype of all bosses who dare to focus on margins and profit. How many employees identify their bosses with Fezziwig (Scrooge’s former employer,) who took pride in making his employees a happy group, even though Scrooge dismissed It as “only a little thing?”
The Success of Mr. Fezziwig
Instead of focusing on the things that allowed Fezziwig to spend lavishly on his employees (a motivated workforce, honesty, doing what’s right, profitability), we prefer to fantasize about a boss who expresses his sudden enlightenment by unexpectedly bestowing a dinner and an extra day off. Fezziwig is relegated to an afterthought, an overweight doting uncle with no visible reason for his success.
Most of us are far more Fezziwigs than Scrooges. Oddly, if we celebrated the season of giving by presenting our employees with a list of all the “little things” we’ve done for them during the year, we’d be considered self-serving, and more akin to Ebenezer. We bow to the popular myth, give even more at the holidays, and hope it has some carryover of appreciation into the New Year.
Just remember to remind your employees when you are being Mr. Fezziwig for the rest of the year. A Christmas turkey for Tiny Tim isn’t as important as being a good boss on the other 364 days.
This article was originally published by John F. Dini, CBEC, CExP, CEPA on awakeat2oclock.com. John develops transition and succession strategies that allow business owners to exit their companies on their own schedule, with the proceeds they seek and complete control over the process. He takes a coaching approach to client engagements, focusing on helping owners of companies with $1M to $250M in revenue achieve both their desired lifestyles and legacies.