Case Study: Is It Possible For Nice Guys To Finish First?

spartan race

Photo: Courtesy of Spartan Race

Editors’ Note: This fictionalized case study will appear in a forthcoming issue of Harvard Business Review, along with commentary from experts and readers. If you’d like your comment to be considered for publication, please be sure to include your full name, company or university affiliation, and email address.

Adam Baker had been bothered all day by the blunt message his boss and mentor, Merwyn Straus, had delivered to him on the phone that morning: Adam was not the right guy to lead their company’s latest venture.”That door isn’t open to you” was how Merwyn had put it. It was one of those comments that sting a bit at first but inflict much more pain as time passes. So now, in considerable distress, Adam was driving from downtown Washington to the suburban Maryland headquarters of Straus Event Specialists (SES), where he served, for all intents and purposes, as COO. He wanted Merwyn, his CEO, to explain in person why this door that Adam cared so much about was closed.

At age 32, Adam considered himself to be at the beginning of his career, still emerging from the cocoon of his impressive education. When friends introduced him, they invariably mentioned that he had been a top student in his prestigious North Carolina MBA program and, upon graduating, the youngest person ever to serve on the business school’s board of trustees. To hear him described, you’d think he was the number one golden boy at a school that graduated a lot of golden boys and girls. But he wasn’t a golden boy — not really. And he knew that was part of his appeal.

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