While George Clooney gets Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations for playing the part a guy who travels the country "downsizing" people, Jess Chan gets no such kudos for doing the exact same thing in real life. But he does get the frequent flier miles and the same premiere guest status. "I think I even have the same suit," he laughs.
The story of Up in the Air could have been based on Chan's life--he's a single guy, working for a real company that is actually hired to help people who are losing their jobs. It's called Challenger Gray and Christmas, but don't let the name fool you -- most people find little that is merry about the work it does. The company describes itself as "the nation's first, oldest and premiere outplacement consulting organization," and there are those who actually turn tale and run when they see Chan coming, even though he doesn't do the actual firing.
Art Imitating Life or Life Imitating Art?
"That's the biggest difference between my job and the movie," he says. "We do counsel people about what comes next and we help them transition. We do have information packets we hand out, and they look a lot like those in the film. But we don't do the actual firing." That's left to managers and HR representatives who have been well coached on the legal ramifications of their wording. "I understand why they had George Clooney do the firing in the movie, though," he says. "That's the sexy part." Of course George Clooney can make anything look sexy--even termination.
People who are being laid off respond to Jess pretty much the same way they responded to Clooney's character. "They get angry, they cry, they argue, they're stunned, among other things," he says. So how does he deal with that? Just like they do in the film, he says. "There's an art to it. "I try to emphasize that I'm here to help them. I try to calm them down and get them to look toward the future. We help them with their job searches, encourage them and give them hope. And, like in the film, we always do it in person. We believe in being there for them."
To Save Time Traveling
Like Clooney's character, Chan criss-crosses the country and knows cities, hotels and airports as as well as he knows his own backyard, and it takes a certain toll on his personal life. But it's the film's traveling tips that ring particularly true: Chan always packs light and efficient in suitcase with 360 degree rotating wheels. He wears slip-on shoes, (never with laces), and a belt that doesn't set off the metal detector when he goes through security. He goes one step further, however, and avoids a wallet or money clip, in favor wrapping his cash in a rubber band. "That deters pickpockets and losses as well," he explains. "Wallets and money clips slip out of your pockets easily, but rubber bands catch on the fabric."
And Chan says Clooney's tips for following the fastest people through security lines are also right on. He avoids getting behind parents with small children or groups of young students or athletes. But how does Chan respond to the movie's stereotypical advice to follow Asians, because they're quick and efficient? "Hey, if the shoe fits and is a slip on..." he quips.