WHEN YOUR COMPANY IS AN ALBATROSS
You served your company proudly. Being senior manager of such a company
would be a bright sash of honor. Having that sash would allow you to find
an even better job in another organization.
Now that sash on your chest has turned into an albatross hanging from
you neck. What do you do?
That is the situation faced by upper middle managers at the
headquarters of C.R. Bard,Inc.'s USCI Division. The company recently
agreed to plead guilty to 891 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, lying to
regulators, and shipping "adulterated products" for human
experimentation. It will pay a $61 Million fine. Six of the top managers
at Bard have been indicted separately. Each faces 200-300 counts, and each
count carried a maximum penalty of 5-20 years.
Top management may take the public "heat" for knowingly
shipping defective heart catheters. But the decision was probably made and
implemented at lower levels within the organization.
Upper middle managers at Bard are in a similar situation to managers at
Morton Thiokol. That company's conduct ultimately contributed to the
Challenger disaster. Raytheon's recent negative publicity regarding
overpricing on the Patriot Missile only serves to make it more difficult
for the hundreds of newly discharged Raytheon managers to gain credibility
for civilian-oriented technology companies.
A Real Dilemma
Most managers elect to ignore the issue at job interviews and at social
gatherings. After all, few people would be rude enough to ask, "Will
you bring your old company's 'winning ways' into our business? And if you
say you won't, how can we be sure?" Yet, that is exactly what they
You can initiate the topic yourself, but then you risk a twenty minute
lecture on how your albatross company is an example of greedy,
short-sighted managers' ruining capitalism. Do you REALLY want to spend
that much time defending your old company?
There is always the Nuremberg Defense: "I was only following
orders. I didn't make policy." That argument might be acceptable for
lower mid-management positions. It is not acceptable if you are seeking a
policy making or policy influencing position.
None of the options are attractive. Here is a format we have found
useful with our senior clients from "Albatross" companies:
Ask: "What Do You Know About My Company?" This
question allows you to gauge how large an albatross the other person
perceives you have around your neck. If the person says, "I Know very
little about the company," then you can begin to discuss the disaster
in your own way. In a serious job interview, it is your responsibility to
bring up the issue. You can't avoid bringing it up.
If the other person begins to get into a heated discussion about your
former employer's lack of ethics or business sense, you should say, "Some
time in the future, I'd like to discuss that in more detail. The subject
is so complex, we could spend all day talking about it. If we talk about
it now, I'm afraid I won't have time to answer the two issues I hope we
are here to discuss (1) what was my role in the disaster and (2) what I
can do for your company."