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"Goddamn it!" says the founder and CEO of Avalon Security. He emerges from his office in Brooklyn Park wearing black pinstriped pants, matching vest, and an improbably broad grin. "I thought those guys would never hang up!"
Dan Seman is a busy man these days. Since 1982, he and his 30-plus employees have provided typical security fare, but during the downturn and jobless recovery, the former U.S. marshall has seen an exploding new market: firings.
"I watch their eyes when it's being done," he says. "I see their eyes going in the same direction: house payment, car payment. 'What am I going to tell my spouse?'"
Minnesota's unemployment rate, while faring better than the national average, continues to hover around 7.5 percent. The state shed 83,900 jobs in 2009, according to a December report released by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
With the outlook so bleak, it's small wonder some people lose their cool, says Dr. Lynn Joseph, a psychologist and nationally recognized career transition specialist. "The stages people go through after getting fired or laid off always mirror the stages of grief, but it's particularly traumatic in today's economy. The suicide rate for recently terminated workers has increased, and we're seeing more workplace violence."
Which is where Avalon Security comes in. For 17 years, Seman has helped terminate workers of all collars, from chairmen of the board to assembly-line grunts. During the current recession, he's seen dozens of people lose their jobs.
"It's not unusual for me to hear things like, 'I'm going to come back and kill you all!' Or they'll look at me and say, 'I know where you live!" He chuckles. "Well, great, I think to myself, come on over and have a beer then!" Seman turns serious. "I'm just doing my job. It's not a pleasure to do this."
The procedure usually unfolds something like this: Wearing a bulletproof vest under business-formal attire and flanked by a human resources executive, Seman strolls into a conference room to greet a doomed employee who, more often than not, is oblivious to his impending firing. It's almost invariably a Thursday or Friday. Seman and the HR executive sit nearest the door, to provide an escape route if things turn violent.
Dan introduces himself. He'll need your keys. He'll need your ID. He'll need your corporate credit cards. He might reach into your breast pocket. Here's your final paycheck. If you want your severance package, you need to go quietly.
"And please keep your hands where I can see them."
There was the time he went to an exclusive suburban country club to give an "extremely high-level executive" his walking papers. The Harvard-educated man snapped, and grabbed the nearest object he could find—a busboy tray—and hurled it at Seman. (The tray missed, and the man apologized five minutes later.)
During the dot-com bust, Seman performed property seizures on internet start-ups. "All we found was porn," he remembers. "It was like: 'What did you guys do all day?' These guys were making over $100,000 a year!"
The 51-year-old turns cagey when the conversation turns to his own finances—he calls the recent uptick "unfortunately significant" and leaves it at that. It's clear he wants to avoid giving off the appearance of reveling in others' calamity. Similarly, he refuses to divulge the names of his clients, revealing only that the bulk of them are Fortune 1000 companies based in Minnesota.
There's no way of anticipating who's going to go ballistic, says Seman. "Sometimes the guy with the Ph.D. can be the biggest prick in the world." But generally, the more memorable outbursts come from the corporate world. Which reminds him: There's a certain cliché pertaining to disgruntled letter carriers he'd like to debunk.
"People shouldn't say, 'Such-and-such is going postal,'" he says. "That's a horrible way of putting it. They should say they're 'going corporate.'"
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