Promotion? “You’re Not One of Us”

Nationalism and native land

Image by Toban Black via Flickr

It’s a story that’s still too common; star performer is passed over for the plumb job because they “just don’t quite fit in.”

The reason? “They aren’t one of us. They just don’t understand (fill in the blank) our culture / the way we do things / our heritage.”

Generally the performer leaves, takes another role someplace else, and does well. Sometimes the person stays, the subject of awkwardness, perhaps some sympathy and hushed tones when the story of the slight gets retold.

Tradition – sometimes code words for describing (choose another one) sexism, nationalism, racism, homophobia, religion, etc. is still alive in the corporate suite. Not as robust and well as it was once, but still alive.

Indian-born Anshu Jain joined Deutsche Bank in the mid-1990’s from Merrill Lynch and turned the corporate and investment bank into a powerhouse. His area routinely produced 90% of Deutsche Bank’s profits. Will he ever be named as the firm’s CEO?

In Germany, no one can imagine an Indian working in London (where the  firm’s investment banking operations are headquartered) who does not speak German becoming the CEO of Deutsche Bank”  said Lute Roehmeyer of LBB Investment, a large shareholder of the firm.

When Englishmen John Varley was named the CEO of UK-headquartered Barclays Bank PLC over American Bob Diamond in 2004 it was rumored that much of the reason – despite the Diamond’s impressive performance as head of the investment banking side of the house – was that Diamond’s Yankee brashness, lack of family connections, and polish didn’t fit with a UK corporate world accustomed to more a more genteel tradition.

So while there is still a widely perceived – despite Mitt Romney legal advisor Robert Bork’s pronouncement that “They [women] aren’t discriminated against anymore,” glass ceiling barriers for women, barriers toadvancement for high achievers aren’t limited just to gender.

When Diamond eventually became the Barclays CEO in 2010 the headlines blared “Barclays Picks American to Lead British Bank,” the type of lead-in that gives pause.

Deutsche Bank punted on Jain’s promotion; rather than make a decision now, Jain was named co-CEO in July 2011 along with German Jürgen Fitschen, complicating decision-making but preserving a share of German oversight.

Shock no doubt hit when Howard Stringer was named as the CEO of Sony, as the firm borrowed a page from other major Japanese firms who have turned to “outsiders” for help with turnarounds. But push things too far and folks who “aren’t one of us” get bounced – which appears to be the back story to Japan headquartered Olympus firing of their British born CEO Michael Woodford last week. “”I am afraid that Japan as a country [could now be] regarded as uncomfortable for foreign management,” said Toshiyuki Shiga, Nissan’s COO.

Jack Hawley once said that “change can come slowly and also happen in the twinkle of any eye. You have to be prepared for both possibilities.”

It’s also said that misery and politics lead to strange bedfellows. Desperation, or the desire to beat you competitors can do the same. As corporations hire leaders who can bail them out and/or lead them forward, not simply look the part, people like Diamond, Jain, or Meg Whitman will become more – not less – common.

Notice, for example, how it was virtually no news that HP hired a female this time around – given Whitman’s successful run as the CEO at eBay  and the fact that HP had previously had a CEO who was a woman.

Maybe that old leaf is being turned over, and change is happening quickly right in front of us.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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