Who Can Help the Ceo?

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HBR Case Study
BY PHIL TERRY
COMMENTARY BY JAITHIRTH RAO,
SUSAN J. ASHFORD,
AND STEPHEN J. SOCOLOF

Who Can Help the CEO?

Daniel Vasconcellos

With pressure mounting for better results, the CEO of TrakVue needs help. But every avenue he tries turns out to be a dead end.

ELIOT ROBBENS STOOD at his living room window. Though it was still dark, he sensed the dawning of
a beautiful April Saturday. He gazed
at the fading stars above and at the illuminated plaid of Manhattan below and decided – why not? – to indulge
himself and do something really fun:
go to the office.
There it was. He was a workaholic.
The CEO of TrakVue, a struggling
but still viable start-up, Eliot felt
that none of the pleasures of a warm
spring weekend in New York could
compare to work. So he rode the elevator 22 floors down to the street and hailed a taxi by waving his BlackBerry aloft, using its bright screen as a beacon.
He was already pecking at his e-mail before the cab had
gone a block. Here were the travel details for his upcoming
board meeting on the West Coast – his assistant worked nearly the same crazy hours he did. And here was a furtively sent “I love you” message from his wife, Kate, now on day two of a weeklong no-phones, no-internet meditation retreat in Lake

Tahoe with two college friends. Then he blinked. An e-mail

from Jayson Frantz, his sales VP, had
a one-word subject line: “Sorry.”
Sorry?
He opened it. A glance was all he
needed: “Hard decision…feel really
terrible leaving you at this crucial
time…” Eliot was stunned. This was
bad, really bad. He scrolled up and
down, but the message contained no
explanation.
He let himself into the office
and called Jayson, despite the hour.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
Jayson clearly didn’t want to have
this conversation, particularly since
he’d just woken up. He spoke vaguely
and euphemistically before finally admitting that he’d had an irresistible offer from a competitor in the inbred world of webbased project-management software. “I’ll match it,” Eliot said. “I’ll beat it.”

But location was also an issue – the rival was based in Jayson’s home state of Washington. HBR’s cases, which are fictional, present common managerial dilemmas and offer concrete solutions from experts.

hbr.org
hbr.org

1045 Apr09 Terry.indd 33

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April 2009

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Harvard Business Review 33

3/4/09 5:00:37 PM

HBR Case Study Who Can Help the CEO?

hbr.org

“Listen,” he continued. “I
“You’ve been here only six
O ffer your solution
think there’s a bigger issue
months,” Eliot said. “After I
to the dilemma in
this fictional case
here than just Jayson. I’m
hired you, I thought, That’s
study at confide.
going to set you up with an
it – now I’ve got the perfect
hbr.org.
executive coach.”
person in that job.”
Eliot groaned inwardly.
“Thanks, but – ”
“I’m not sure I need that.”
“And our being a year be“I’ll get you a few names. If the first hind in our results was your predecesone doesn’t work out, you can try the sor’s fault, not yours. I’ve told you that.
next one. Keep going until you find one
You’re doing great.”
you like.”
But it was all too clear that Jayson’s
Eliot wished he hadn’t made the call.
mind was made up.
After he hung up, Eliot paced among
the empty cubicles. He wanted to talk
Squash-Court Consult
to someone. He wished Kate weren’t out
As Eliot went out to the deli for coffee,
of reach.
paper debris swirled and rose from the
He thought of Amory Essler, an old
sidewalk in gusts of wind. The cashier
friend and a venture capitalist on Trakgreeted him, as always, with “Hi, Boss.” Vue’s board. He would be in London
Boss. It was a position he had longed
right about now.
for during all those years he’d repeatedly
“Amory,” Eliot said when his friend
tried to scale the corporate hierarchy.
picked up. “I’m so glad I reached you.” There had always been people ahead of

“I think there’s a bigger issue here,”
Amory said. “I’m...
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