Psychology Today: Here To Help


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 are thinking.

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.

Suggested Format

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."