Frank Mason and Abbott Business Supplies (ABS) are both at pivotal moments in their respective histories. ABS is a San Francisco-based regional manufacturer and supplier of stationery products and related business supplies with annual sales on the order of $10 million. Previously family-owned, it was acquired 18 months ago by military avionics producer Houston Electronics (HE), whose annual turnover is likely 2 orders of magnitude more than that of ABS. ABS acquisition was not a popular decision among the top managers at HE, and the sole supporter, a high performer named Ed Nolan, was tasked by HE management to be president of ABS and improve the company’s performance. After the first year, it was reported by a consultant with ties to ABS that the company was in serious trouble and desperately in need of someone to turn it around. Enter Frank Mason, a 35 year-old Harvard MBA who is a rising star in his own right. After college, 4 years in the Navy and his time at Harvard, Frank rose quickly making a name for himself in the marketing division of Great Pacific Paper Company (GPPC). After his first 5 years there, Frank began to feel a sense of personal stagnation and a feeling that there were no new challenges offered for him there. Frank yearned for a challenge along with autonomy that he could use to test his limits and evolve into the next phase of his career. Frank soon got that opportunity at a sporting goods retailer (Gleason Pro Shops), but corporate financial problems forced them to let him go after only 18 months. After leaving Gleason he was offered the Sales and Marketing VP position with ABS through an agency. He was initially uninterested, even though the job offered a much higher salary. After interviewing with Ed Nolan, however, he learned that there was an opportunity at rapid advancement in that he could be president within 2 years, that he would have full autonomy in his position, and that Ed was a likeable charming and charismatic guy. So Frank accepted the job and started working at ABS. During the first six months at his new job, things quickly turned bad. Ed Nolan became not so charming anymore. In fact he was a harsh authoritarian with tendencies bordering on neurotic. His personal relationship with Nolan deteriorated rapidly and with that so did his autonomy. As ABS continued to show poor numbers, Nolan was often physically absent, spending time also managing a division of HE in Houston. When he was present at the office, he would make petty demands simply to assert his authority and severely limit Frank’s ability to effectively do his job. Nolan was unresponsive to Frank’s efforts to repair the relationship and discuss the company’s situation with him and things were quickly reaching a head. The president of HE was coming to ABS for a visit and it was Frank’s last chance to affect change. Problem Definition
The ABS Company suffers from a leadership vacuum due to a physically absent president who expresses Machiavellian tendencies bordering on neurotic when he is in residence. Frank Mason appears to have the personal drive and capacity to fill that power vacuum but is hamstrung by the environment the authoritarian management style has created. Relevant Theories and Models
The problems at ABS seem to typify failures to accommodate varied personalities to the organization. The bulk of the problems seem to trace back to Ed Nolan and his unpredictable and often neurotic behavior. Examples of this are clear in his often unreasonable directives such as insisting that an employee he personally disliked be sent to the Los Angeles warehouse every Monday “even if all he does is sit there”. Another example of this behavior was his insistence over the objections of nearly all others that the warehouse manager abandon computer-managed inventory systems and organize the warehouse like a supermarket solely so that Nolan could walk in and see what was there. The problems...
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