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The following essay was submitted to the Berkeley MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.

One of the most difficult situations I have ever had faced during my tenure as VP of my company was the decision of whether to fire X, an experienced employee, with who I had worked closely for two years. The decision arrived at my desk after a new CEO was appointed, and I became his VP, in charge of most employees. Together, we decided that we were going to transform our small and quiet company into a leading research firm with a target of 50% sales growth over the next 2 years. For that, we needed a devoted team that was committed to this goal.

This vision did not fit X. She left a large corporation where she worked long hours, and one of the main reasons she chose to join us was the laid back and relaxed atmosphere of a small company- exactly what we were determined to change. Although talented, she did only the minimum necessary and was not willing to make any sacrifices and commit to our goal.

I faced a tough decision. On the one hand, firing a talented and experienced employee, in a time when most of the employees were new (as we wanted to drive growth we recruited new people), seemed unwise. In addition, I knew that our relationships with major clients might get hurt and a substantial knowledge base would be lost

On the other hand, not firing her would mean establishing double standards for our employees – most were required to work hard, whereas  X was leaving early and refused to contribute extra efforts. Her opposition to the change had already begun creating undesired effects, as a few of the employees resented her.

In order to solve the problem, I tried to make X relate to the new goals and change her attitude. In addition, we also improved the company’s bonus program, based also on her comments, in order to reward the extra efforts. When all milder measures failed, I had to make a decision.

I decided to fire X. Although I knew that in the short run things would be difficult, I concluded there was no other way. I needed the most dedicated team possible, a team who was personally committed to the growth of the company. X, as head of a major division, would have undermined this effort in the long run.

Personally, making the decision was very hard. It meant firing someone with whom I had worked with closely for a long time. However, In terms of team spirit, matters improved greatly, and we succeeded in building the right team to lead the company forward. The new division head that replaced X was a highly motivated manager, and with her, I had a team that could reach the ambitious goals we set, and indeed, in two years we have doubled the company’s project capacity, with a great improvement of research quality and customer satisfaction.

The following essay was submitted to the Wharton MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.

“The deputy CEO, X, wants to meet you!” were the words that started my workday. X just returned from a meeting with the president of Europe’s 3rd largest food producer. He reported that the company is interested in closing a multi-million dollar deal with us on one condition – that we improve our product’s appearance.

As R&D manager of my company, the world’s 3rd-largest specialty soy proteins producer, I was tasked with leading this project. The problem has been known in the company for years, but was never resolved. I led and supervised 21 employees, coordinated the work of 40 people, and 2 weeks later implemented a solution.

During the initial discussion with X and 5 senior managers, I suggested the methodology for solving the problem. I presented the feasibility of the proposed solution and an initial estimate of the costs, and operational implications. The Marketing VP said “this is exactly what we need! When can you deliver?”

However, I felt our suggested solution was operationally premature. Despite estimates that we need to come up with a solution within 2 weeks, I asked for 2 more weeks to conduct trials. “We have nothing to lose – we’re starting full scale production tomorrow!” X and the CTO said. I explained that the financial consequences of failure would be tremendous and that we must also ensure we provide a consistent solution. Ultimately, they approved the trials.

Right after the meeting I gathered my R&D staff of 6 researchers. I presented the issues, emphasized the significance of the business opportunity, and defined a timetable. I also asked the Marketing VP to evaluate the magnitude of the problem in other markets. His report revealed more opportunities that solving the problem will create. This required my direct collaboration with 5 marketing people operating in more than 50 countries, 3 application managers, and our China production facility.

I led the coordination of the full-scale trial with senior management, the marketing and operations departments, and application managers. During production I supervised the work of 17 employees. The production turned out to be 100% successful in terms of resolving the problem. It created no operational problems and maintained the original product’s quality. I felt very proud.

A shipment was sent to the customer for re-evaluation and received his approval. This was the first time in my 3 years at my company that a process was successfully changed on the first try. However, not everybody embraced the solution. The company’s chief operating officer wasn’t excited because of implications on operations. After several weeks of discussions I persuaded him this was the only way.

Ultimately, my work provided the conditions for facilitating a $2 million deal, the company’s largest new contract that year. By resolving a problem that existed for 4 years, I also affected customers all over the world.

I chose to share this experience because I feel it highlights several leadership aspects. Solving the problem required me to lead a wide variety of people in my country and abroad. It also entailed close interaction with the company’s senior management. Most importantly, this project required me to present a new vision and convince others to adopt it.

When I was hired at a young startup company, I learned to work with a limited amount of manpower and an oversized workload. At first, each project was allocated for a sole software engineer. As the company grew, bigger projects required more than a single engineer to finish them within a reasonable timeframe. However, because each engineer had developed his own work methodology, many conflicts arose among team members, and projects consequently took longer to finish than expected.

It was apparent to me that this problem would prevent our growth, so I researched and concluded that we, as a company, must adapt the Agile development Method, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration, which fits growing development teams like ours. I presented the problem and solution to our management. I volunteered and received their support to lead the change within the organization. I succeeded in showing my teammates the benefits of this work methodology and soon they followed my lead.

Since then, our company has used the Agile Method and even asks candidates during job interviews if they are familiar with it. I helped my company gain the ability to manage and deliver large-scale features and strengthened my own leadership skills.

I’ve come to realize that a people-centric approach is a key differentiator in leadership. For instance, I switched the format of my weekly staff meetings to encourage all members of the team, especially those more junior, to highlight one workstream that we could improve on. Using this approach has allowed the team to voice opinions much more openly and has created a more collaborative environment. As a result of changes in working dynamics, we explored and implemented new logic for applying promotional codes, leading to a $4m annual savings without an impact on retention.

Growing up in Iran and having lived in Mexico and the US, I’ve learned the importance of understanding cultures and making business decisions that fit the mark. Leading a team of at least five nationalities has shown me that we all have a different way of getting our points across. The Haas International Business Development opportunity would allow me to become a more socially aware leader and help incorporate tech-enabled solutions across the globe.

The LAUNCH program would allow me to not only get a business off the ground, but also become a better business leader in technology by getting a closer grasp of new product ideation, development, and go-to-market strategies.

The Technology Club and FinTech Club would enable me to build more authority within my domain and become a more effective leader through collaboration with like-minded individuals. Additionally, access to thought leaders, investors, and executives in the technology sector through the Haas network would further hone my leadership skills and enable me to learn from the brightest minds in the business.

These rich resources at Haas, including LAUNCH, technology-focused clubs, and opportunities to learn from the brightest minds in business through the Dean’s Speaker Series, would foster my leadership in the short term. The extensive global network of Haas would further open opportunities for both domestic and international business development in the long term.

Harvard U

Harvard University

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