Topgrading Derails Presidential Bid


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As you will soon understand, all names have been changed. A charismatic CEO asked me to help him turn a company around and his 5-year goal was to run for, and become, President of the United States.

I was interviewing all the executives as part of a Topgrading Audit, to see who were A Players and those with A Potential … and who might have to be replaced. The Vice President of Distribution had been struggling to get results because the union rates in warehouses were higher than what competitors paid. During the interview I was noting a weird pattern—he kept referring to the mob.

Topgrading Tip: when a strange topic is repeatedly brought up by the interviewee, stay cool, let the topic come up again, and toward the end of the interview confront the person: “Why are you bringing up this topic so often?

This pattern became a red flag. I needed to—you guessed it—probe, but do so subtly. I didn’t want to scare him away from mentioning the mob, so when he brought it up a few more times I listened but didn’t probe much during most of the interview.

But at the end of the interview I figured out an indirect way to broach the subject. I was thinking, “Why the heck are you so preoccupied with the mob?” or “Are you in bed with mobsters?” but I asked, “Have you had any mob contact recently?” He said yes, two reputed hit men for the mob had been to the corporate offices and wanted to offer the CEO an “incentive”—make payments of $50,000 per month and the thugs promised that onerous union contracts would “go away.”

With the former head of the union in jail, I asked how the national union could enforce local contracts, and he made it clear that a local who refused to do what the jailbird “requested” would be killed. Gulp! Or in mob lingo, the uncooperative guy would be rubbed out, whacked, hit.

I interrupted the interview and took the executive to visit the CEO (no, not Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca, or Ross Perot.) The CEO heard the story, declined to pay the bribe, and the onerous union contracts continued. The company continued to decline, and the board eventually replaced the CEO. If I had not discovered the VP’s mafia contacts, one of the best-known companies in the U.S. might have become party to corruption and murder. And if that little tidbit became public during a presidential campaign, the CEO would have instantly had to drop out of the race.

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