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Tom McAvoy was twenty-seven and three years out of law school when he entered the legal department of Electro-Magnetic Induction Technology Industries as a legal researcher on an antitrust case. The company then had about $50 million in sales and operated almost exclusively in North America—and really only in the USA, as the Canadian affiliate was barely more than a sales office. By the time McAvoy was forty-five, he was associate general counsel of a company—now renamed Emitco—with sales of $1.75 billion and major operations in all developed countries, and especially in the European Common Market, where one-third of the company’s sales now originated. McAvoy’s father had been a diplomat, and Tom had spent much of his childhood and youth abroad before coming home to the U.S. for college and law school. He was therefore multilingual, with excellent French, German, and Spanish and adequate Italian. Negotiations and legal work in Europe thus had naturally gravitated to him. He had become the company’s mainstay in the development of the European network of Emitco subsidiaries and affiliates, was a member of the management committee of Emitco-Europe, and spent about half of his time in Europe and on European business. It was no secret to anyone in Emitco that McAvoy wanted to live in Europe. When he suggested establishing the company’s European headquarters in Paris, more than one wit in the company commented 94 PRODUCTIVE WORK AND ACHIEVING WORKER that McAvoy’s love for that city was the real reason for the choice. Therefore, when the company’s vice president–European informed headquarters that he intended to retire on his sixtieth birthday, nine months hence, McAvoy’s choice as his successor surprised no one. It also pleased the heads of the European companies who had worked closely with McAvoy over the years and had found him intelligent, well-informed, and distinctly simpatico; whereas they often had difficulties working with some of the others in Emitco headquarters— most of them small-town midwesterners who had never lived outside their own country. McAvoy was elated, but he also worried. He was conscious of the fact that he had never before managed people—he had always been a staff specialist. And now he was going to have reporting to him nine line managers and a total of 19,000 people in nine different European countries. He therefore requested a three-month leave, ostensibly to get his teenage children into boarding schools and to move his home to Paris, but in reality to prepare himself for line-operating responsibilities. Being a conscientious man, he got a list—a very long list—of books on personnel management and read them all. But the more he read, the more confused he became. The books were full of procedures, but McAvoy was fully determined to leave procedures to the personnel department. Otherwise they all talked of the kind of man he should be or should become. But what was he supposed to do? He knew that he had to establish himself, fairly fast: he had seen enough people get a promotion to know that one had to establish oneself in a new job within a few months or so. He knew that the only aspect of the job that was new to him was managing people—but it was totally new to him. And he felt strongly that he had to know in advance what to do and what not to do: he knew that improvisation wasn’t his way of doing things. Finally, with most of the three months of his leave used up, he reluctantly went for advice and counsel to the retired chairman of the Emitco board, the man who had originally hired him. At the time Case Number 18 95 Jonathan Forbes had been an executive vice president. He had then soon become president and chief executive officer and the main architect of Emitco’s growth and expansion. Forbes had never been the kind of “boss” the books recommended; he had been austere, aloof, demanding, critical, and rather distant. But McAvoy had respected him and so had many others in Emitco. And Emitco’s growth and success, McAvoy believed, was primarily the result of Forbes’s management of people: he seemed to be able to make the most diverse people perform and pull together. Forbes was at first cool when McAvoy sought him out in his retirement retreat in Colorado Springs. But he warmed when McAvoy explained why he had come. “That you worry, Tom, is in itself a very good sign,” Forbes said, “and perhaps it’s the only thing needed to make you do a good job. Managing people isn’t that hard—if you know that it is your job and that it is work. The only thing that is truly important is . . .”
QUESTIONS How would you finish the sentence? And what would you say to defend your choice of the one thing that is “truly important” in managing people? Would today’s successful executives agree?