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It’s Just Business, Nothing Personal—Or Is It?: Answers


Recap: Drake Darrow just got awarded a huge promotion. But instead of feeling elated, he felt uneasy.

Darrow, VP of marketing for clothing and equipment maker Daredevil Sports, had been making bold moves to grow the business—most of which were wildly successful; a few had bombed completely. Company CEO Brenda Lee and President Oscar Weinstein arranged a last-minute meeting with Darrow, so he expected them to tell him to tone it down and take fewer risks. Instead, they lauded his approach and promoted him to chief marketing and sales officer, a position newly created for him.

The caveat: VP of Sales Chris Tarton would be laid off at the end of the month. Darrow and Tarton have worked together at Daredevil for the past five years and have become good friends outside of the office. But Tarton’s approach is more traditional. And although the two collaborate far more than they clash at work, Lee and Weinstein don’t think Tarton is the right person to lead sales and help Darrow’s bold approach reach its full potential.

Darrow tried to change their minds, but to no avail. Lee and Weinstein want him to find new marketing and sales VPs to execute his bold moves—people who would devise their own innovative strategies in line with his.

As close as he and Tarton had become, Darrow wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity. But he couldn’t help feeling trepidation. After all, Tarton had helped him get his job in the first place.

A mutual business associate had recommended Darrow to Tarton when the latter was helping Lee and Weinstein recruit a marketing VP all those years ago. Tarton became Darrow’s number one cheerleader for the job. What’s more, Darrow was concerned about how Tarton will react when he learns that Darrow knew about his layoff nearly two weeks prior. But he didn’t want to put his promotion at risk by telling Tarton in advance. Still, Darrow didn’t want to lose Tarton as a friend, or as a colleague for that matter. He wanted to believe that Tarton could and would adapt.

How should Darrow handle the situation?

December/January Winner: Mark Braff, Braff Communications LLC
Tough spot for Darrow. In fairness to him, it would have been best if Lee and Weinstein had fired Tarton and then promoted Darrow, without looping him in at the beginning of the process. But that’s water under the bridge at this point.

Darrow can look himself in the mirror knowing he did nothing to betray his friend and colleague and, in fact, argued to no avail that Tarton should be retained. But that’s not going to happen. So, at this point, Darrow needs to keep the information confidential and let Lee and Weinstein do what they’re going to do. Once Tarton is let go, Darrow should offer to take him to dinner, during which he can explain that he fought for him but management’s mind was made up. As a friend, Darrow should offer to be a reference for Tarton and can pass any job leads along to him. Darrow should also tell Tarton how much he appreciates all he did for him five years prior when Darrow was up for the Daredevil job.

If Tarton is reasonable about the situation, he will recognize that Darrow is not to blame and that he couldn’t give a heads up about the imminent firing without jeopardizing his own job. Tarton was on his way out regardless, so there was no reason for Darrow to put his job on the line, as well. If Tarton doesn’t see this reality and wants to hold a grudge against Darrow, then it will be an unfortunate end to a friendship. But at least Darrow will know he fought for Tarton, was honest with him after the fact about what happened, offered his assistance in landing another job, and expressed appreciation for his past support.

Other responses
? Gene Dichiara, Adjunct Professor, Center for Distant Learning, Empire State College
Darrow is making a serious mistake by allowing his personal feelings and emotions to interfere with what appears to be an informed business decision—a decision made by his superiors and one for which he is not responsible. He should let the situation play out, with Lee and Weinstein pulling the plug on Tarton. At that point Darrow can express his feelings and offer to help Tarton find another position. Darrow has nothing to explain. It was a business decision made by his superiors who favored him for the new post because of his outstanding work.

? James McNulty, StandPoint Public Relations
Darrow should take Tarton out for a meal or a drink immediately and tell him the news, emphasizing that he did his best to dissuade the CEO and president. He should then recommend that Tarton use the time to absorb the blow and start thinking forward, without divulging their conversation. That’s the right thing to do. More pragmatically, if management really wants Darrow for the job, that wouldn’t change if they found out he was a stand-up guy. And it’s only two weeks.

? Don Hornbeck, Senior Director, Circulation Sales, Treasure Coast Newspapers/TCPalm.com
Darrow will be responsible for the success or failure of marketing and sales at Daredevil Sports, so he must be allowed to decide who will be on his team. And because Darrow believes that he and Tarton have successfully collaborated during the past five years, he needs to go back to Lee and Weinstein and assert his desire to keep Tarton on his team. Darrow should also explain that he’s looking for more than just people who can execute his bold moves; he wants team members who will collaborate and work together with him to come up with those bold marketing and sales plans—and then help to execute those ideas.

? Penny A. Charles, Beacon Healthcare
If I were in Darrow’s shoes, I’d see what I could do to start supporting Tarton’s employment transition. It’s better to be running to something instead of being pushed away from something. In a hypothetical, when it’s my friend and our corporate policy allows for personal references, I’d volunteer to be a reference. But, I’d go further than that. I’d start looking at sites to find out what’s out there to immediately point Tarton in the direction of potential jobs. Do I know anyone at the companies that have the postings (given that employee referrals tend to get priority hiring preference)? I’d ask the bosses if HR knows about Tarton’s situation and then have a dialog with HR, as well as ask if HR has a list of headhunter contacts to give to Tarton. Do they know who’s hiring, or do they have HR friends that they can reach out to to help support the transition?

To me, if Tarton isn’t going to thrive at Daredevil Sports, why put a lot of effort into changing who Tarton is as an individual? It’s far easier to change the environment where Tarton’s skillsets will be more of a match and he won’t be fighting an uphill battle. In the end, Tarton will be much happier in an environment where his skillsets are respected and valued.

? Kevin McPherson, Business Development Manager, Xerox Services
This is a tough situation, but Darrow needs to be honest with Tarton. He can deflect some of the responsibility for the change, as it’s not his decision, even though he benefited from the change. The reality is that Darrow has earned the new job by innovating and taking risks in the marketing assignment.

He tried to advocate for Tarton but to no avail, the CEO’s and president’s minds could not be changed. Darrow could offer to help Tarton find a position at another company as he originally helped Darrow.

? Lynn Rogers, Marketing Manager, Arlington Scientific Inc.
All too often in the business world humanity is thrown under the bus for the sake of the “greater good of the business.” Such a tactic can be personal and lead to deflating the morale of departments and companies; plus, it can bring into question management motives related to all employees. If, after all, they lay off Tarton, who’s to say they won’t do the same in a year if Darrow fails to meet their expectations?

Darrow may not need to be too concerned about Tarton if, prior to signing on as VP of sales, Tarton negotiated an employment contract that included a severance package. In the competitive world of business, anyone assuming an upper management position understands that length of employment can be conditional.

If this is not the case, Darrow could use his innovative way of thinking to insist that Lee and Weinstein let Tarton know of their plans and offer him an exit option. It isn’t that difficult to return the cheerleading favor to a fellow counterpart facing the ax who has served a company well. In the business world it serves one better to build bridges rather than burn them.

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