Case Study

Topics: Board of directors, Corporate governance, Harvard Business School Pages: 28 (6588 words) Published: April 30, 2014


Should Cheryl
initiate an
investigation at her
new firm?

The CEO’s Private

Four commentators offer
expert advice.

by Joseph Finder

Reprint R0710A

If there ever were a time when a chief executive should commission some quiet snooping on her colleagues, this might be it.


The CEO’s Private


by Joseph Finder

If Mussolini had been the CEO of a major
American corporation, Cheryl Tobin thought,
his office wouldn’t have been this big.
She stood in the doorway of her new work
space, on the 33rd floor of the Hammond
Tower in downtown Los Angeles, and took a
deep breath. Seven o’clock on her first morning as CEO of Hammond Aerospace. Briefcase in one hand, Starbucks nonfat venti latte in
the other.
Go for it, kiddo, she told herself as she exhaled, then resolutely strode over the threshold and across the antique, jewel-toned Serapi rug. She remembered the moment, a couple of
weeks ago, when the chairman of the board
had solemnly ushered her in here. He’d stood
in awestruck silence, presumably to impress
her with the majesty and grandeur of the job
they were courting her for.
She’d been impressed, all right. But also secretly appalled. It was obscene: easily four

times the size of her office at Boeing, where
she’d run the largest division. This wasn’t exactly her style. A peacock’s plumage might impress the peahens, she liked to say, but it
was also a flashing neon all-you-can-eat sign
for predators.
Floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides,
with dazzling panoramic views of Wilshire
Boulevard. A private terrace where you could
entertain visiting dignitaries. Even a working
fireplace with a slate hearth—what was that
all about?
It was all about the colossal ego of its former
occupant, of course. The legendary James
Rawlings, the globe-trotting CEO-statesman
who’d single-handedly built a minor producer
of airplane windshields into one of the world’s
leading aerospace companies. Jim Rawlings
had been a man of immense charisma and
iron will, a hard-charging salesman who’d
dominated Hammond Aerospace until the

HBR’s cases, which are fictional, present common managerial dilemmas and offer concrete solutions from experts.
harvard business review • october 2007

page 1

The CEO’s Private Investigation •• •HBR C ASE S TUDY

Joseph Finder (joe@josephfinder.
com) is an award-winning writer of
best-selling corporate thrillers such
as Killer Instinct, Company Man, and
Paranoia. This fictional case is a prequel to his latest novel, Power Play (St. Martin’s Press, 2007).

moment, one month ago, when he’d dropped
dead from an aneurysm on the sixth hole
at Pebble Beach. Right in front of three
Japan Airlines execs with whom he’d been negotiating a $5 billion order for thirty H-880 SkyCruisers, the company’s new wide-body
passenger jet.
Half an hour after they’d carried him away
on a gurney, the shaken Japanese executives
signed on the dotted line.
Even in death, he seemed so present. His
grandiose office had been preserved exactly as
he’d left it, a shrine to a cult of personality.
They still hadn’t taken down the photos on
his ego wall: skiing with Prince Charles in
Klosters, sailing with Gianni Agnelli in the
Adriatic, schmoozing with King Abdullah at
the royal palace in Riyadh. The place still
reeked of cigar smoke.
She had some serious redecorating to do.
For starters, the humidor had to go.
The vast black marble slab of a desk was uncluttered by a single object. Where is the telephone? she wondered. Didn’t the guy use a phone?
She set her briefcase on the floor, then
placed the almost-empty paper cup on the
gleaming surface of the desk. It looked almost ironic there, like some Damien Hirst installation.
Now she stood watching the early morning
traffic, the Matchbox...
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