The Expectant Executive and the Endangered Promotion - Case Study
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Jim Serra, vice president of engineering for Hunter Peripherals, sighed heavily as he watched the early morning traffic on Highway 237. Outside his office window, thousands of cars rushed by each day, past the Intel, Acer, and other high-tech billboards, symbolizing silicon Valley’s continual fast pace. Jim had always taken Hunter’s frenetic environment for granted –had thrived on it, in fact, as had his senior managers. But the competitive pace now left him with a dilemma: should he promote one of those managers to a crucial new director’s position?
Still single, Jim had lived for his job ever since he’d joined Hunter Peripherals five year ago. As one of the founding employees of the $160 million company, he had a lot on the line, including his stock options. Tomorrow morning he had to make a recommendation to his colleagues in the executive management committee. However he pitched it, Jim’s words would carry a lot of weight with the EMC.
Diane Bryant was the only valid inside candidate for the new opening. Diane, who was Jim’s senior engineering group manager in charge of environmental testing, had demonstrated an early knack for leadership and innovation. When she first came on board, she revamped the empire testing procedure. She had credibility with senior executive, was well respected by her staff, and was sharp thinker. She was also five months pregnant.
“Her timing is just so lousy.” Jim thought, staring bleakly at the blinking workstation screen on his crowded desk. Until recently, director-level openings were virtually nonexistent at the company. But when Mitch Lee, another senior manager, had resigned to join a start-up, Jim had decided to merge Mitch’s product compliance group with Diane’s environmental testing group. Because these two groups were critical to the upcoming launch of Hunter’s next-generation disk drive, Jim had created a new director’s position to oversee these areas and had announced the opening at last week’s management meeting,
With his staff of 90 people, including 8 direct reports, Jim needed a strong leader for the job. Zeuss could not be introduced until it met the industry environmental standards for shock, corrosion, and temperature and obtained compliance certification from all the international regulatory agencies. Moreover, the first customer ship deadline (FCS) was only six months away. Already Hunter’s existing product orders were declining as customers anticipated the next generation of disk drives. A slipup in the schedule would give Hunter’s competitions the edge, and millions of dollars in revenue would be lost.
Jim told himself that Dian’s pregnancy was no surprise. She was 36, after all, and he’d known Diane and her husband Brian wanted children. Brian was closer to 40 and had established his own computer consulting business to allow for more flexibility in his schedule. Jim was happy for both of them, but…
He swung around in his ergonomic chair, brooding on the empty take out pizza box on his conference table. For the four years they’d worked together. Diane had been a comrade-in-arms, pounding away on weekends and late at night with the best of them. As a colleague, Jim enjoyed Diane’s snappy sense of humor and quick mind. Even now, he knew she could guarantee timely competition of her group’s commitments for Zeuss. But when it came to the new director’s position, Daine would be on maternity leave two months before the FCS. Given the mess Mitch Lee had left behind in the compliance group, including a staff with chronic high turnover and low morale, Jim was not sure how the company could launch Zeuss on schedule without the new director in the office full-time.
At lunch, his colleague David Moss only reinforced Jim’s worries. Davis, who was vice president of product engineering and a fellow EMC member, met him in the company cafeteria at noon. Davis was a gruff, outspoken industry veteran who had been brought in eight months before to help Hunter regain the market share recently lost to its key rival, Quality Storage International. David was now responsible for getting Zeuss to market on time. A hard-driving maverick, he started work at 5:00 A.M, jogged sis miles every day, and rarely saw his wife and two young sons.
Jim and David managed to avoid talking about the director’s opening while they ordered cheeseburgers and fries at the grill. The spacious, modern cafeteria had been redecorated in burgundy and mauve, adorned with neon signs for hot entrees, espresso drinks, and a salad bar- all planned last year when Hunter still had cash to burn, Jim noted wryly. After playing the cashier, he and David headed for the small conference room off the cafeteria. David shut the door firmly before diving into his burger.
“Too bad about the Dian,” he said with his mouth full. “But this always happens. Remember Rebecca at Datex? She could have been a VP if she had not decided to quit and start a family.”
Jim did not answer. He’d always prided himself on being a fair manager, one who would listen his low opinion of Hunter’s mew parental-leave policy, in which employees could take up to eight weeks off, with pay, and were guaranteed a job when they returned, although it might not be the same position. David stopped chewing, and his eyes widened.
“Are you actually considering Diane for the job?”
“We both know she deserve it.” Jim hedged. “Look, I cannot penalize Diane for having a baby. If I don’t promote her and I bring in a new director, she will essentially be demoted, and I am afraid of losing her for good.” David dropped his half-eaten burger. “How do you know she will even come back to work? She will responsible for a family soon, and her priorities will change. The bottom line is, she made the choice.” He rubbed at a new grease spot on his shirtsleeve. “And you cannot afford a disaster in product compliance.”
“I haven’t figured that one out yet,” Jim admitted.
“The new director has to have the technical know-how to make the right judgment calls at the last minutes.” David shoved his tray away. “Say it is one month before the Zeuss FCS and testers find that electromagnetic emission are borderline. This director will have to decide whether to send the drive back to engineering for more work or to push the product through as is. Only someone who’s got environmental and compliance specs down cold knows how strict approval agencies are about emissions. Maybe there’s a good chance the borderline product will squeak through, or maybe the agencies are watching that particular spec real closely because the electromagnet interfere with broadcast transmissions. I do not have the expertise to make that call- do you?”
“Daine does,” Jim said quietly.
“Sure, Diane’s one of the best! But you don’t know how reliable she will be when or if she comes back.” David tugged at his tie.” If there ‘s no internal talent available, you’ve got to look outside. What about Reg Stuart at Vision or Tom Wu at Datex? I hear they are both sniffing around for something new……”
Jim stared at the mauve carpeting, his lunch long forgotten, Part of him wanted to wring David’s skinny, excited neck. But his common sense told him he was only angry at the man because he was right- at least from a shot-term business point of view.
“Don’t tell me you’ve already informed Diane that you will be recommending her to the EMC!” David burst out. “We will have legal problems then!”
“No, I haven’t told her anything yet,” Jim said.
“Well, good,” David said. “Think very seriously about this, Jim, because you’ve got to do what’s right for the company. This is my product, and I simply will not tolerate any more mistakes!”
David picked up his tray and left with a bang of the conference room door. Jim was used to his take-no-prisoners style and tried not to let it bother him. But back in his office, he kept thinking about it and making mental lists of pros and cons.
A knock interrupted his list making. Before Jim’s office door opened, he knew it was Diane. He’d expecting a confrontation with her for days. But when she took a seat at his cluttered conference table, pushing aside a stack of computer magazine, Jim saw that she was even more upset than he’d imagined. Smoothing down her well-tailored maternity dress, Diane did not bother with greetings, much less her usual wisecracks.
“We both know why I am here.” She smiled stiffly. “I want to make perfectly clear my interest in the director’s opening. In fact, I’ve been waiting for you to say something all week.”
“There are absolutely no questions that you are qualified for the job, Diane. We need tp go thorough the formal interview process, however.” Jim felt uncomfortable adding this last bit since he and Diane had always been honest with each other in the past.
“Let’s cut to the chase,” She snapped. ”I suspect you have some concerns about my pregnancy leave. But I should be back in time for the Zeuss launch. You know me, Jim-I don’t want to miss it!”
“Unfortunately, the two months before the launch are the most critical. The new director will have to keep the environmental and compliance groups on track and resolve problems fast before they escalate.”
“I know that, but I would have four solid months in the new job before I take my leave. And I will make dame sure the groups are in good shape before I go. I’ve been thinking about this a lot; I ‘d like to propose that Carl Mullikin assume managerial responsibilities while I’m out. It will give him some great experience and ..”
“Are you suggesting that Carl be acting director?” Jim shook his head. “Carl’s got potential, sure, but he’s not up to that. When he ran the engineering test-procedure task force last year, his team did not make its deadline. Frankly, I do not see anyone in-house who could carry both groups while you’re away.”
“I still think my group can meet environmental’s commitments at 100%. Compliance should come in at 85%.”
“An 85% compliance isn’t good enough, Diane. You don’t want to jeopardize the launch, do you?”
Her gaze remained steady. “No, of course not. But I am sure you realize that just because I am starting a family does not mean I am a different person. My commitment to excellence doesn’t change. My ability to execute doesn’t change. If a man had to go on leave because of a sudden illness, would you deny him the position, if he were most qualified? Jim, I’m the right person for this job.”
He forced himself to meet her eyes. “Would you be willing to take a shorter leave? Say, just four weeks instead of eight?”
Diane looked down, secreting her legs under the table. “I’ll be working up to the due date, in any case, but there’s no way I can predict exactly when the baby will come. Let’s face it, a shorter leave isn’t realistic.”
“All right, then,” Jim tried to smile reassuringly. “You’re in the running, but I’ve got to warn you, this is a tough decision for me.”
Diane looked at him for another moment, and then left his office without another word. Jim started reading the 17 E-mail messages that had accumulated in the past hour but was too distracted to do them justice. Finally, he turned his back on his workstation and watched traffic as the afternoon rush-our began.
If only the stakes weren’t so high. A successful product launch could take Hunter Peripherals public. Like the other EMC members with stock, Jim could almost taste a big win. If he recommended hiring an outside person with senior credentials, David Moss and the others would easily accept that decision.
Of course, even a senior hire would take at least two months to locate, a month to come on board, and another four months or so to learn the intricacies of Hunter’s internal workings. And there was no telling how Diane’s staff would react to such a change. Yet, that person would still be on hand – 24 hours a day, if necessary- during the critical two months before the launch. And when Diane returned after 8 weeks, would she really be able to handle both a heavy management load and a new baby?
In fact, the stakes were always high at a company like Hunter Peripherals. While long-term performance depended on retaining key employees like Diane, Jim also had short-term goals to meet. With shrinking budgets and slim people resources, he couldn’t see an obvious way to deal with her leave.
- Instruction for written assignment-
The Expectant Executive and the Endangered Promotion Case Study
->You are Jim Serra and you have to write a 2-page letter (on company letterhead) to Diane giving her the news that she has not been chosen for the director’s position and explaining this decision.
Because you know that your decision is only a short-term solution, you also inform Diane that she will eventually become a director. In this letter, you also lay out an alternate plan that involves hiring an interim director for six months; Diane will work closely with this person before and after her maternity leave.
- This letter involves giving both negative news and positive news. There should be good transitioning and flow within the letter.
- The Content of your letter to Diane involves some fitness and creativity, particularly the good news portion. Be sure to include some information about your alternate plan and the reasons for it. The justification for the negative news can be found in the case study. Be sure to focus on only the relevant issues.
- Concentrate on the ‘what (message), way (style), when (organization) in your writing during the course of the entire letter.