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– READ THE CASE ATTACHED AND ANSWER THE FOLLOWING………1. Alternative Course Of ActionList the courses of action the company can take to solve its problem or meet the challenge it faces. For information system-related problems, do these alternatives require a new information system or the modification of an existing system? Are new technologies, business processes, organizational structures, or management behavior required? What changes to organizational processes would be required by each alternative? What management policy would be required to implement each alternative?Remember, there is a difference between what an organization “should do” and what that organization actually “can do”. Some solutions are too expensive or operationally difficult to implement, and you should avoid solutions that are beyond the organization’s resources. Identify the constraints that will limit the solutions available. Is each alternative executable given these constraints?2. Evaluate Each Course of ActionEvaluate each alternative using the facts and issues you identified earlier, given the conditions and information available. Identify the costs and benefits of each alternative. Ask yourself “what would be the likely outcome of this course of action? State the risks as well as the rewards associated with each course of action. Is your recommendation feasible from a technical, operational, and financial standpoint? Be sure to state any assumptions on which you have based your decision3. Recommend Best Course of ActionState your choice for the best course of action and provide a detailed explanation of why you made this selection. You may also want to provide an explanation of why other alternatives were not selected. Your final recommendation should flow logically from the rest of your case analysis and should clearly specify what assumptions were used to shape your conclusion. There is often no single “right” answer, and each option is likely to have risks as well as rewards.
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2095
MAY 1, 2008
W. EARL SASSER
HEATHER BECKHAM
Thomas Green:
Power, Office Politics, and a Career in Crisis
Another long day at the office had drawn to a close. Thomas Green felt the pulsing in his temples
that usually preceded a migraine. As he stepped outside Dynamic Displays’ corporate headquarters
in Boston, the brisk air made him catch his breath. It was now February 5, 2008. Green could not
believe that in five short months his dream promotion had turned into a disaster. When Green had
been promoted to his new position in September, he was a rising star. Now, he would be lucky to
celebrate his one-year anniversary with the company. His boss, Frank Davis, had sent the division
vice president, Shannon McDonald, two scathing emails criticizing Green’s performance. Green and
Davis had yet to see eye to eye on work styles or market trends. Tension had also risen when Green
did not enthusiastically endorse the sales forecasts made by Davis. Green felt the forecasts were
either overly optimistic or outright fabrications.
Before he left for the day, Green had reread the series of emails regarding his performance and
was certain that Davis was setting him up to be dismissed. Davis’s most recent email had made it
clear to Green that his position as a senior market specialist was in jeopardy. He did not have much
time to rectify the situation. McDonald had emailed a formal request to him that afternoon, asking
for his perspective on his performance and how he was going to improve the situation. With this in
mind, Green started his commute home and began to analyze what went wrong and what he could
do to save his job.
Company and Industry Background
Dynamic Displays was founded in 1990 as a provider of self-service options to banks via
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs). In 1994, Dynamic Displays launched a new division aimed at
the travel and hospitality industry, and deployed their first self-service check-in kiosk for Discover
Airlines. In 2007, Dynamic Displays’ Travel and Hospitality Division had 60% market share with
over 1,500 self-service kiosks in use at more than 75 airports. Customers included regional, national,
and international airline carriers, as well as various hotels and car-rental agencies. Eighty percent of
the Travel and Hospitality Division’s 2007 revenue came from airline carrier clients, 15% from hotels,
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
HBS Professor W. Earl Sasser and Heather Beckham prepared this case solely as a basis for class discussion and not as an endorsement, a source
of primary data, or an illustration of effective or ineffective management.
This case, though based on real events, is fictionalized, and any resemblance to actual persons or entities is coincidental. There are occasional
references to actual companies in the narration.
Copyright © 2008 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685,
write Harvard Business Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu. This publication may not be digitized,
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2095 | Thomas Green: Power, Office Politics, and a Career in Crisis
and 5% from car-rental agencies. The company was a full service provider, offering hardware,
software, engineering, and maintenance support.
Kiosks were an attractive option for airlines to quickly and easily check in passengers while
reducing processing costs. Dynamic Displays’ kiosks not only reduced costs but also improved
customer service, shortened passenger wait times, and provided valuable information to these
travelers. In 2006, Forrester Research estimated the average cost for an airline passenger to check in
through an agent was $3.02, versus a range of $0.14 to $0.32 for kiosk check-in.1 This impressive
savings was realized by allowing the repetitive tasks of selecting or changing seat assignments and
printing and distributing boarding passes to be handled by the passengers themselves. Airlines
reduced headcount or assigned the agents to more value-added tasks, such as solving complex
customer service issues and ensuring compliance with safety and security standards. The cost
savings were particularly important for the airline industry during a period when margins were
razor thin and fuel costs were continuing to climb.
Airlines were also aggressively promoting another self-service option for travelers. Web check-in
allowed passengers to complete the entire check-in process via the internet from a remote location,
utilizing their personal or office computer. Cost savings using online check-in was of even greater
benefit because the airline did not have to purchase and install a kiosk, and passengers printed their
own boarding passes using their own paper. According to a 2006 Forrester report, airport kiosks
were a mature application with 75% of U.S. leisure passengers using kiosk in 2006. Web check-in on
the other hand, was still experiencing dramatic growth, increasing from less than 45% of U.S. leisure
passengers in 2005 to 64% in 2006.2
Thomas Green: Path to Senior Market Specialist
Thomas Green was born in 1979 in Brunswick, Georgia, the son of a postman and a school
secretary. At the University of Georgia, he worked in a warehouse and washed cars while earning a
bachelor’s degree in Economics. His first full-time job was in sales for National Business Solutions in
Atlanta. Green enjoyed impressive success in the Banking Division, focusing on ATM sales to
regional banks in the Southeast. In March 2007, Dynamic Displays recruited Green for an account
executive position in the Southeast territory for the Travel and Hospitality Division. To Green,
Dynamic Displays seemed to present a great chance for a fast climb up the managerial ladder.
Green hit the ground running at Dynamic Displays. In his first four months as an account
executive, he completed a contract for one of the largest airline carriers, Journey Airlines, to accelerate
rollout of kiosks in 20 airports and purchase upgraded software for kiosks in the majority of their
locations.
Green had told a close friend, “I wanted to come in and dazzle them at Dynamic Displays. This
was no easy feat. But I wanted more than an account executive position. I had heard there was a lot
of opportunity for fresh talent at corporate headquarters and I made it my mission to get noticed
immediately.”
Senior executives at Dynamic Displays quickly took notice of Green’s performance and were eager
to strengthen his relationship with the company. In July 2007, Green attended a week-long training
session at corporate headquarters. Shannon McDonald, the division vice president, and Mary Jacobs,
the national sales director, made a concerted effort to get to know him better. Green and McDonald
1 Harteveldt and Epps, “Self-Service Check-In Clicks with Travelers,” Forrester Report, February 23, 2007
2 Ibid.
2
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were both University of Georgia alumni and Georgia natives. They had an instant connection, and
McDonald seemed to take Green under her wing. McDonald had several informal meetings with
Green, and by the end of the week Green became aware of an open position for a senior market
specialist. Green aggressively campaigned to be considered for this position. Over the next month,
Green made several trips to corporate headquarters to meet with McDonald. Green discussed his
various client relationships, and McDonald agreed that in a short time he had developed unique
insights into their markets. Following a dinner meeting at which Green offered lengthy explanations
of the client opportunities he perceived and his strategies for winning them, McDonald promoted
him to the position of senior market specialist.
McDonald told Green, “Tom, you are obviously a bright and ambitious account executive. You
have a great rapport with your clients. You have made a strong case for your promotion and I’m
willing to take a chance on you. I think this group needs a fresh perspective. However, I do have a
couple of reservations about your lack of managerial experience. You have only held sales roles, and
the senior market specialist position is very different. This new job will require you to think
strategically as well as tactically, and you will have to coordinate between several different functions
and layers of corporate management. I am hoping you compensate for your lack of experience by
seeking out guidance from some of our more seasoned managers.”
Green was assigned to work out of corporate headquarters in Boston. The division’s
organizational structure is shown in Exhibit 1. The promotion had been a giant step upward for
Green; an account executive interested in joining the marketing team usually moved first to a market
specialist position and then put in a number of years in the field before reaching “senior” status. The
other senior market specialists in the division were in their forties. Green was 28. His salary was
now $125,000, a 50% increase over his previous salary.
Senior market specialists were responsible for identifying industry trends, evaluating new
business opportunities, and establishing sales goals. In addition, specialists developed general
market and specific client strategies to help the account executives obtain a sale. Green directly
supervised the two market specialists in his region. Green reported to Frank Davis, the marketing
director. Davis had recently been promoted from the position that Green assumed (see Exhibit 2 for
relevant bios).
After Green’s Promotion
Green’s promotion became effective on September 10, 2007. McDonald stopped by Green’s office
that first day and told Green, “Tom, you are walking into a tricky situation with Frank Davis. Frank
had expected to choose the new senior market specialist and it would not have been you. You’ll have
to deal with any fallout that might result from that. You are getting an unusual opportunity with this
promotion. Don’t let me down.”
Green used most of his first week to review 2006 and 2007 year-to-date sales. He spent the next
week with his boss, Frank Davis, making a rapid tour of major airline industry clients. At the end of
the week, Davis told Green, “We had some good meetings this week and the clients responded well
to your ideas. However, I think we would have been more effective if we had been able to provide
the clients with some market data. When you are on your own I expect you to spend a significant
amount of time preparing for client meetings and developing supporting detail for your proposals. I
know you will need a little time to get up to speed on your new position, but I expect you to start
developing some new market strategies for your region soon.”
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Green next visited clients, market specialists, and account executives in New York, Atlanta, and
Orlando. In addition to the travel, Green’s personal life was very busy. He was searching for a house
in Boston, arranging to move belongings there, and still trying to maintain a relationship with his
girlfriend in Atlanta.
On October 8, Green attended the 2008 Budget Plan meeting in which Davis presented sales
projections for the upcoming year. This was the first time Green had been exposed to the planning
and forecasting process. Since Davis had held Green’s position when the estimates were due, the
numbers for the Eastern region had been developed without input from Green. At the meeting,
Davis assigned 2008 performance commitments for all senior marketing specialists and their teams.
Performance reviews would be based upon their ability to meet or exceed the objectives. Green was
surprised by the numbers that Davis was proposing. Davis estimated 10% growth in the Eastern
region.
According to Green, “Frank Davis was way off base with his pro forma numbers. I had been
talking with our account execs and there was no way we could achieve double-digit growth in 2008.
The sales goals Frank set for my region were totally unrealistic. In the meeting I expressed my
concern that my goals would be impossible to meet. I couldn’t believe I was the only one with the
guts to speak up. After the meeting, Frank stopped me in the hall and told me about all these big
opportunities for the market. I listened politely, but the time I’d spent out on the road with clients
gave me every reason to doubt Frank’s expectations.”
Davis was visibly upset that Green openly challenged him at the meeting. Davis commented to
McDonald, “Thomas’s negative attitude is not what we need on this team. Corporate expects this
division to be a growth engine for the company. We’ve realized a 10% CAGR over the past 5 years.
The market indicators are positive, and with the right sales strategy my projections are attainable.
The hotel and car-rental markets are virtually untapped right now. Thomas’s problem is that he’s too
conservative in his outlook. He is thinking like an account exec who is only concerned with the sales
target. In the senior market specialist position, he has to think outside the box and develop strategies
to capture that aggressive growth target.”
Meeting with Frank Davis
It was customary for employees at Dynamic Displays to have an informal evaluation in the first or
second month after a promotion. When Green saw a meeting with Davis regarding his performance
pop up on his Outlook calendar, he was not the least bit worried. On October 15, 2007, Green met
with Davis to discuss his performance to date. Quite to Green’s surprise, Davis had prepared a list of
problems he had encountered with Green’s work in the first month after his promotion.
Davis sternly looked Green in the eye and began. “Thomas, you have not done a good job of
keeping me informed of your schedule. For example, this past Thursday, I was trying to locate you
and your Outlook calendar said you were in Orlando. I needed you to send me some information on
one of our accounts. You didn’t answer your cell phone. I ended up calling the account exec in
Orlando and was told you had left the previous day. To make matters worse, I had asked you to
deliver on that same day a brief report on that new kiosk opportunity in Tampa—and I didn’t receive
it.”
Flabbergasted, Green responded, “I decided to go to Atlanta a day early because I had run out of
good opportunities in Orlando. I was able to get a meeting with the VP of purchasing at a client in
Atlanta and thought that would be more productive than sitting around Orlando talking to
nobodies.”
4
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Davis continued, “On September 20, I asked you to check why VIP Hotel Group had not
purchased any of our kiosks. After three reminders, I still have not received a good answer from you.
In the same vein, two weeks ago, I requested the status of the regional jet division of Journey Airlines.
I have not received any update from you yet. I also asked for organizational charts on two clients in
Charlotte and Raleigh. Do you remember your reply? You said, ‘What’s the value of charts like that?
I have that information in my head.’ Thomas, we can make good use of those charts—they can help
us lay out a strategy for getting to the decision makers in a company. I expect the charts on my desk
by end of the week.”
Davis and Green spent the next two hours going over various incidents and discussing a plan to
improve the situation.
Later, Green told a manager outside his group, “I can’t shake this nagging suspicion that Frank’s
criticisms of my performance are a direct result of my questioning the validity of his forecasts in the
Budget Plan meeting. I was blindsided by his negative assessment of my work. Frank spent two
hours picking apart my work style. You would think he would be concerned with bigger issues than
how often I update my Outlook calendar.”
A few days after the meeting, Davis wrote an email to McDonald, who had promoted Green,
outlining the points covered in the meeting and copied Green on the communication (Exhibit 3).
Three Months Later: Trouble Continues
After the October 15 meeting, Green met with the national sales director and director of software
development. Green was focused on developing a new up-selling and cross-selling software
program that would allow airline passengers to upgrade seating; have meals, magazines, or books
delivered to the flight; and book hotel rooms or cars at their destination. According to Green, “The
only way for us to capture growth is if we can convince the airlines that our products have revenuegenerating opportunity and other advantages over web check-in. However, these programs may
take months to develop and will not impact our sales in 2008.”
Green spent most of November, December, and January working independently on his special
software project and traveling to meet with his market specialists and various clients. According to
one of the market specialists who accompanied Green to several meetings, “Thomas is great when it
comes to selling the clients on his ideas. He is very charismatic and can think quickly on his feet. I
can tell he has put a lot of thought into his strategies and I really like working for him. However, the
clients are starting to ask me for hard data to back up his claims of cost savings. They are also
requiring memos and presentations to bring to their superiors that justify the expenditure. Thomas
doesn’t really work that way. He would rather talk through the issues face to face.”
During this time, Green avoided interactions with Davis whenever he could. Green continued to
tell people outside the group he did not agree with his boss’s projections for 2008. Green stated,
“With the continued financial distress in the airline industry and preference for web check-in, I don’t
foresee a lot of growth in spending next year. Davis is holding firm with his upbeat projections. I
deliberately steer clear of him. I know my mood is terrible. The excitement’s gone from work. I must
say, though, I’ve had a couple of good chats with managers from another part of Dynamic Displays,
and they‘re supportive. They told me to stand my ground. ”
On January 28, Davis held another performance review meeting with Green, focusing on the
continuing deficiencies in Green’s work and attitude. After the meeting, Davis sent an email to
McDonald outlining his issues with Green (Exhibit 4). Green was not copied on this email, but
someone sent him a copy by interoffice mail. McDonald met with Davis the following day to flesh out
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2095 | Thomas Green: Power, Office Politics, and a Career in Crisis
the issue. Davis told McDonald, “I am truly disappointed with Thomas’s work. He is an intelligent
and capable young man, but I do not believe he is making a strong effort.”
In response to Davis’s complaints, McDonald sent a short email to Gr …
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