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The Case is attached in the attachments!
1. Quickly read the case. If it is a long case, at this stage you may want to read only the first few and last paragraphs. You should then be able to
2. Answer the following questions:
1. Who is the decision maker in this case, and what is their position and responsibilities?
2. What appears to be the issue (of concern, problem, challenge, or opportunity) and its significance for the organization?
3. Why has the issue arisen and why is the decision maker involved now?
4. When does the decision maker have to decide, resolve, act or dispose of the issue? What is the urgency to the situation?
3. Take a look at the Exhibits to see what numbers have been provided.
4. Review the case subtitles to see what areas are covered in more depth.
5. Review the case questions if they have been provided. This may give you some clues are what the main issues are to be resolved.
When you are doing the detailed reading of the case study, look for the following sections:
1. Opening paragraph: introduces the situation.
2. Background information: industry, organization, products, history, competition, financial information, and anything else of significance.
3. Specific (functional) area of interest: marketing, finance, operations, human resources, or integrated.
4. The specific problem or decision(s) to be made.
5. Alternatives open to the decision maker, which may or may not be stated in the case.
6. Conclusion: sets up the task, any constraints or limitations, and the urgency of the situation.
HBR.ORG DECemBER 2011
HBR Case Study
Can Nice Guys
by Jeffrey Pfeffer
dam 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 described
him, they invariably mentioned that he
had graduated at the top of his prestigious
North Carolina MBA program and then
became the youngest person ever to serve
on the business school’s board of trustees.
To hear them talk, you’d think he was the
number one golden boy at a school that
produced 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.
Adam Baker was, like his name, barely
noticeable. He was dark-haired, softspoken,
and on the short side, with a thick
neck. He looked like a third-stringer on a
high school football team—which he had
been. Yet everyone knew him and everyone
He’d achieved this status by being not
the loudest or funniest guy in the room
but the most approachable, someone
who could instantly put you at ease. At
parties—he attended and threw a lot of
them—people flocked to him. This was
especially true on formal occasions, which
the true golden boys hated almost as much
as they hated being sober. They would
follow him around the wide verandas and
brick patios as though he provided shelter.
All the while he would chatter—not saying
anything very scintillating but always being
truthful and down-to-earth.
He knew that he fascinated people—
that strangers said behind his back, “That
little guy was picked for the school’s board?
That little guy was the CEO of a company
in his twenties?” When they got to know
Can Nice Guys Finish First?
by Jeffrey Pfeffer
HBR’s fictionalized case studies present
dilemmas faced by leaders in real
companies and offer solutions from experts.
This one is based on research by Jeffrey Pfeffer.
Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor
of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s
Graduate School of Business.
2 Harvard Business Review December 2011
him, they saw that he was the complete
package: smart, loyal, present.
“Present” was an important concept
for him. He would show up, do the work,
solve problems, fulfill expectations—just
as he’d done growing up in a small house
outside Charlotte, with his three younger
siblings, their quiet, imperturbable mother,
and their unfathomable father, whose
presence created as much tension as his
It was therefore natural for Adam to
respond to Merwyn’s painful remark by
jumping into his car and racing to the main
offices of SES, one of the world’s biggest
event-planning businesses. He wanted to
talk to his boss in person.
He found Merwyn in the design
department, asking typically probing
questions about a model of a conventionfloor
setup. His warm smile when Adam
arrived seemed to indicate that nothing
had changed between them. Had Adam
misheard the comment about “that door”?
Once inside the CEO suite, Merwyn
asked Adam where he’d been that morning
when they’d talked. Adam said he’d been
downtown, looking at one of the boutique
properties that would be part of the hotel
chain SES was investing in—the new venture
Adam hoped to run. The company was
to be a 33% owner with two other investors.
Merwyn nodded. He was thin and spry,
with wiry white hair. “I know you really
care about this venture,” he said.
“Very much so,” Adam said. “That’s why
The new business was to be built
around an existing string of five urban
hotels in Washington, Baltimore, and
Philadelphia. Adam had been the first to
notice that the chain was up for sale—at a
fairly reasonable price, given its potential
value. Although SES had never been in the
hotel business, he’d persuaded Merwyn
that the acquisition would be a good fit and
then rounded up the other investors, one
of whom was a fellow B-school trustee.
From the beginning, Adam had hinted
that he would like to lead the new chain.
Then he had begun actively lobbying
for the position. He knew, because he
made it his business to know, that the
partners were split on his candidacy. His
fellow board member favored it; the other,
although he apparently respected Adam’s
competence, was inclined to oppose him
because of his youth. Merwyn was the
“I love hotels,” Adam said. “I’m ready to
lead. I can do this.”
“It’s not about loving hotels,” Merwyn
said. “It’s not about love or passion or
dedication, all of which you have in spades.
The hotel business is tricky, and it’s not
your area of expertise.”
“You know how quickly I learn,” Adam
Merwyn paused. “True,” he said.
“There’s nothing I give you to do that you
don’t master in 24 hours. But the hotel
business isn’t just tricky. It’s brutal.”
“And I’m not brutal?”
“Thankfully, no. You’re not. That’s why
the door is closed. I’m sorry.”
Just Let It Go
“You know why he said that, don’t you?”
Adam’s friend Kaleeb asked. They were
standing at the railing of Kaleeb’s secondfloor
deck in Georgetown. The sun was
down and the evening was chilly, but
Adam felt he needed to be outside. His
sweater was keeping him warm, as was
the mixture of Jim Beam and Coke that he
was drinking. Kaleeb’s wife, Sarah, was inside—on
the phone, as always. Right after
the wedding, she’d taken a job with a real
estate powerhouse. Kaleeb had followed
a very different career route, becoming a
fundraiser for the Newseum.
“My age,” Adam said.
“And Tallyrymple,” Adam said with a
sigh. “That’s going to haunt me forever.”
“Everybody has failures.”
After business school Adam had followed
the herd into investment banking
but immediately became bored by it. He
knew he should look for a job in a field
he could relate to, but he couldn’t figure
out what that might be. Kaleeb—or was it
Sarah?—had pointed out how much Adam
enjoyed delighting his friends by staging
imaginative parties. The idea clicked, and
Adam started to focus on a career in event
planning. The sector intrigued him in part
because it didn’t attract the best and the
brightest. Amazingly, his first recruitment
interview resulted in a CEO job. At age 27
he was running Tallyrymple, a Raleighbased
outfit that staged high-end parties
for a long list of wealthy clients. But it was
a horrible experience. Within a year the
company was facing bankruptcy.
“I wasn’t prepared for that kind of
competition,” Adam said. Tallyrymple had
become embroiled in a turf war with an
aggressive company that didn’t distinguish
between ethical and unethical behavior:
It used cash payments and threats of
exclusion to secure deals with food-service
providers and talent agencies. Adam went
into overdrive to expand his network of
potential referrers and clients, but time
and again he found that he’d been beaten
to the punch. Merwyn Straus had eventually
bought Tallyrymple at a bargain price
and absorbed it, hiring a chastened Adam
in the process.
“Merwyn saved you,” Kaleeb said.
“That’s why he’s so protective. He doesn’t
want to see anything like that happen to
“Overly protective, maybe.”
“I think you should let it go,” Kaleeb
said. “You’ve got your whole career ahead
of you. You love working for Merwyn, and
he thinks you walk on water. You’ve got a
great gig at SES. Merwyn is central to your
network now—don’t ruin that relationship.
Remember what we always used to talk
about back in B-school? Keep growing the
network, keep growing the network, keep
growing the network.”
“Merwyn is central to
your network now,”
Kaleeb said. “Don’t ruin
December 2011 Harvard Business Review 3
For article reprints call 800-988-0886 or 617-783-7500, or visit hbr.org
Inside, Sarah slammed down the phone
and cursed, but by the time she’d come out
to the deck, she was all smiles. “I do love a
good fight,” she said, referring to whatever
work-related drama she had been dealing
with. “Now, what were y’all talking about?”
Call in Your Marker
“Merwyn said what?” Sarah asked when
Adam told her the story. “That is the most
condescending, infantilizing thing I ever
heard.” She managed to say this with a lilt
in her voice and a sparkle in her eye.
Adam was at a loss for words. How
could he begin to explain the depth of his
respect and admiration for Merwyn, who
was teaching him everything there was to
know about the event-planning business—
and who constantly sang Adam’s praises
and promoted his career?
Adam looked at Kaleeb, who signaled
with a nod that he understood completely:
Sarah just didn’t get it about mentors and
“I remember when you introduced me
to him,” Sarah said, “and he told me all
about how you’re like a son to him, blah
“Sarah, please,” Kaleeb said. “Talk about
something else. I’m getting Adam another
“There’s nothing wrong with being
treated like a son,” Adam said.
“No, of course not—as long as he recognizes
when you’re all grown up.” She put a
hand on his arm. “Adam, we love you. We
want the best for you. But you have to be
more aggressive. Be clear about who you
are. About what you want. Merwyn may be
condescending, but he’s a good guy. That’s
why you like him. He’s fair and square.
He’s a fair dealer. He may be the fairest
man in the land!” That radiant smile again.
“You can use his fairness to your advantage.”
Adam gently separated himself from
her. “I don’t want to take advantage of him.
I don’t want to take advantage of anyone.”
“Listen to me,” she said. “Who discovered
that sorry old chain of roach hotels
and saw what it was really worth—you or
him? Who did all the due diligence about
the health violations and the labor issues
and the back taxes—you or him?”
“Who first said that SES should buy the
chain? Who wouldn’t take no for an answer
when Merwyn hemmed and hawed? Who
went out and found partners to share the
risk? Who did the deal, nailed it down,
made it work? You!”
“So what?” Adam asked impatiently.
“He owes you—that’s what.” There was
a flash of anger in her eyes. “In my world,
when you owe, you pay. And my world is
no different from Merwyn’s. He knows he
“I’m not going to pressure him,” Adam
“Why not? He’s expecting it. Believe
me. Adam, you can’t keep letting the game
come to you.”
“He doesn’t think I’m ready to be the
CEO,” Adam said. “I’m too young. I’ve got
“You make it sound like you served time,
for cripes’ sake. You did nothing wrong.
You got manhandled by trailer trash. A
gentleman rises above such things.”
Kaleeb had returned; he handed Adam
a fresh drink and rolled his eyes at his wife.
She threw her arms up in mock capitulation.
“OK, yes, Merwyn will be annoyed
if you call in your marker. If that’s all that
matters to you, don’t ask him. But keep
this in mind: If he’s such an impeccably
upright guy, a true straight shooter, and
you do ask him—if you really make the
case that you built this deal yourself, so he
owes you big time—he’ll say yes.”
She took the drink from Adam, sipped
it, and put it back into his hand. “Just think
on that,” she said.
Don’t Say It
The following day seemed strangely
hushed to Adam, as though someone had
turned down the master volume. Everything
looked staged—the window washers
on the scaffolding in front of the bank, the
man sitting stiffly on the park bench. It
was the same way at headquarters. No
one seemed to be really doing any work—
everybody appeared to be pantomiming.
Adam exchanged a quick glance with Merwyn’s
assistant and was wordlessly shown
into the CEO suite.
Now everything was real again. The
volume came back up. Merwyn looked at
Adam warily. “You’ve got something you
want to say?”
“I just wanted to review that deal with
you—the hotel deal. How it came about.”
Merwyn closed his eyes. “I know where
you’re going with this,” he said. “I’m not
surprised.” He continued slowly and
deliberately. “I’m fully aware that if it
weren’t for you, the new venture wouldn’t
exist. And I think we’re going to make a
lot of money on those hotels. So in a sense
I’m indebted to you—perhaps more deeply
indebted than cash could ever compensate
you for. You might even say that out of
gratitude I should grant you any wish you
have—such as making you CEO of the new
Merwyn looked squarely at Adam. “Yes,
I will grant you any wish. But let me just
say what I know for a fact: You are a perfect
number two—brilliant, farsighted, empathetic.
But that doesn’t mean the CEO job
is a good fit for you. The more I see you in
action and think about your history, the
more I’m convinced that door shouldn’t be
open to you.”
He added, “So that’s why I have one
wish. Do you want to know what it is?”
Adam nodded, feeling numb.
“My wish right now is that you will not
ask me to grant you the wish you’re thinking
There was a long silence as they stared
at each other. Merwyn was the first to
speak. “So?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.
Reprint Case only R1112X
QShould Adam ask
Merwyn to make
him CEO of the
4 Harvard Business Review December 2011
For article reprints call 800-988-0886 or 617-783-7500, or visit hbr.org