Each of the spacious rooms at the 250-year-old Glenfiddich House in Leesburg is furnished with at least one or two antiques from its early years. On the wall of the den, part of the log cabin that formed the original structure, hang $2 and $5 Confederate notes, rescued from the attic and framed by a former owner.
Upstairs, in one of four bedrooms, sits an old benchlike rocking chair where a baby's nanny could sit and sew while her charge slept soundly in the cradle beside her.
The quiet charm of the home--always privately owned as a residence, until now--has made it a favorite with people who needed a place to rest, recover or escape.
In the bedroom where the rocker sits, Gen. Robert E. Lee recuperated from an injury in 1862. There is still a hatch in the ceiling that he crawled through to the roof to watch the nearby fighting. Almost 100 years later, author James Dickey holed up in a third-floor study and punched out "Deliverance" while his children played hide and seek in the home's many nooks and crannies.
Today, the house on North King Street still offers respite, but not to military bigwigs or famous authors. Instead, war-weary captains of industry--forced out of their executive positions as a result of mergers or downsizing--flock to the retreat to regain their strength and strategize for the future.
Owners David and Melanie Miles run the Miles/LeHane Group, a career management firm that, among other things, helps ousted executives make the transition to another job, a new career or sometimes retirement. The company was founded 20 years ago by Lou LeHane, who believed that traditional "outplacement" firms for laid-off employees did not address the needs of senior-level executives--chief financial officers, chief executives and the like.
"He saw the additional ego of senior-level people," said David Miles, who bought the business with his wife in 1991 not long before LeHane died of cancer. "That's why he created the retreat environment."
Part bed and breakfast, part rehabilitation center, the firm offers those who have been lifelong corporate overachievers a place to stay and recover from the shock of getting fired. It offers such services as interview preparation (many higher-ups have not had to interview in years, Miles said), psychological testing, counseling and, of course, job placement services. Spouses can also stay at Miles/LeHane and take advantage of any of the offerings.
Miles/LeHane will not accept executives fired for cause, such as theft. Companies typically budget for outplacement services for senior employees whose jobs are eliminated, but most provide only an office, a telephone and a couple of counseling sessions. It costs a company tens of thousands of dollars to send an employee to a place like Glenfiddich House, but for many employers, the cost is worth the payoff in positive corporate image.
Clients at Glenfiddich typically come from Fortune 500 companies, and representatives of Miles/LeHane usually are on site during the termination process. David Miles and his president, Doug Price, might fly to a company's offices and wait while the chairman of the board delivers the blow to Mr. or Ms. CFO in the next room. The talking-to usually lasts about two minutes, Miles said, ending with the chairman saying, "It's in our mutual best interest to handle this in a professional manner."
Enter the soft-spoken Price--he has a soothing voice and tends to use his listener's name in conversation, as in, 'You see, so-and-so'--and the no-nonsense Miles. They intercept the executive and take him to a quiet place in the building or perhaps a nearby restaurant where he or she can decompress.
"The executive is now totally stunned," Miles said. The goal is to get the person talking, Price added, to get some idea of his or her mental state.
"Fortunately, nobody's ever taken a punch at us, but people have walked out," Price said, "and what happens most is someone either becomes stoic or breaks down and cries."
Price and Miles have driven countless devastated executives home and even have broken the news to spouses, teenage children or elderly parents.
Shortly after, the executive and his spouse travel to Leesburg where they are greeted at the home by a casual staff, taken in and treated like guests.
Understandably, spouses often take the news as hard as the executive, which is why Miles/LeHane includes them in the career transition process.
"She was appraised of everything taking place," one former senior-level vice president said of his wife. The couple stayed at Glenfiddich for a spell, during which they both underwent psychological testing. As a result, the executive said he learned a lot about himself and his marriage. For example, he realized he was somewhat controlling not only at work but also at home--something he suspected, he said.
The executive, who asked not to be identified, said losing his job was emotionally devastating. "I was thinking that I was moving along well," he said. But after an acquisition, his company decided he was redundant. Because he was already at the top of the organizational chart, "there was no place for me to go," he said.
When he arrived at Glenfiddich, he was depressed and began second-guessing not only his career choices but also his abilities. Worse, however, was his fear of the unknown. "I had never looked for a job," he said, noting that he had always been recruited for positions--first out of law school and later out of business school.
This particular executive--who now has a new job--quickly snapped out of his malaise. Melanie and David Miles joke that they can tell when someone has "turned the corner" because they suddenly start asking them questions, such as where exactly the Mileses do their work (an office in the basement).
But other executives do not recover so quickly. After several psychological profiles and conversations with counselors, "we can tell if the level of anxiety is beyond normal," David Miles said. "If so, we will suspend the career counseling and send them to crisis counseling."
"That's why it's nice for us to be involved early," Price added, "so we can ask questions." For example, they might prepare before a termination by asking employers whether the executive has any personal problems that could compound the effects of a termination.
However, it is not uncommon for a company to call at 4:30 p.m. to say that two airplane seats have been reserved and please be there first thing in the morning. Usually, this is because the company is worried about the affect of a high-profile termination on stock prices. That is why the call comes after the markets have closed for the day.
Once a person enters the Miles/LeHane program, it can take several months to land another position. Some have taken as long as two years. However, the first goal--making the person "whole" again--usually is accomplished after a few weeks, Price said. The ultimate test of an executive's recovery is how they respond to the question, "What do you do?"
"We want to get them so they can say, 'I'm in transition,' " Price said, "without coming out and saying, 'The SOBs fired me.' "
CAPTION: Doug Price, left, and David Miles outside Glenfiddich House, a retreat for laid-off executives.