1. What is your relationship to, and how long have you known the applicant? Is this person still employed by your organization? If not, when did he/she depart?
Joe worked at our test prep company. As the CEO of the entire company, I was the manager of Joe’s manager as well as 3 other managers in the Group. However I was very engaged in the company at this particular time, and I was deeply involved in all decision making and processes. During this period of changes at our company, Joe played a major role, and so I met him several times a week- either on staff meetings, brainstorm sessions, or one-on-one conversations I held with him. Having met Joe in 2000, I have now known him for almost 9 years. We worked together for 6 years until Joe left to start his own company.
Joe was initially a teacher in our company’s SAT division. After less than 1 year he was chosen by the company’s managers to head the division. As such, he managed a team of 26 teachers, which grew to 55 teachers after one year. He was also responsible for the division’s customer satisfaction and profitability, however, he became involved in the marketing side and ended up promoting a revolutionary movement that completely changed the way the product was sold in the company.
After 3 years and the great success he had with his division, we promoted Joe to Vice President of marketing and sales. As such, he was in charge of all 10 branches of activity, as well as the telemarketing salespeople. Altogether he was in charge of around 100 people and two major activities. One was the company’s marketing and strategy, which included research and campaigns (an activity that commanded a very large budget), and the other was sales. Under this second activity, he saw to the running of all branches and was responsible for all the income of the company.
2. Please provide a short list of adjectives describing the applicant’s strengths, and please compare the applicant’s performance to that of his or her peers.
Joe showed the highest levels of initiative, leadership, high presenting skills, intelligence, originality, dedication, and charisma. He was known as ‘the guy that made us a religion’. He made people believe in the goal and mission of the company.
I think Joe was one of the most compatible, creative, and motivated managers that I ever saw in our company or elsewhere.
I knew Joe first as the division manager of the SAT section and later as the Vice President of Marketing and Sales. When Joe came on as division manager, we were planning to close the division due to a lack of sales. Nevertheless, Joe became quickly one of the major characters in our staff at headquarters. He joined in every meeting, every process, and every project that our company began. Compared to other staff members, Joe had the best, strongest, most original, and most feasible ideas. We put him in charge of many projects that were not related to his division, just because we felt he could do it better than other staff members. In a few cases, I insisted Joe would be involved in matters completely beyond his jurisdiction, just to hear his opinion and see if his touch could make things better. Compared to his predecessors, who allowed the division to nearly come to an ignominious end, Joe took a dying body of a section we were supposed to close a few months after his appointment and made it into a goldmine.
Later, as the Vice President of sales and marketing, Joe came with little theoretical knowledge compared with other marketing vice presidents. However, he came on board with 3 years of successful practice and huge charisma, leadership, and initiative. It was at this juncture that I became more involved directly with him and had long sessions in which I tutored him and tried to channel his enthusiasm and skills to the marketing and sales activity. Joe proved to be a fast learner, and we had a repeat of what happened with the SAT division, only now for the whole company.
Sales reps, branch managers, area managers, and teachers in all divisions were moved by Joe’s activity and by the projects he led. By the end of his first year as vice president, the company had sold 30% more than it had before. Not only the SAT division, which was still growing rapidly, but the Matriculation division, which we were sure had already reached its potential, grew by another 25% under his command.
3. Please comment on the applicant’s growth during his/her employment with you and on his or her ability to work with others, including superiors, peers, and subordinates.
Joe began at our company as an SAT teacher when he was still a student at university, with no previous knowledge of our industry. Most of what he learned was achieved through self-teaching, practice and experience. He was promoted to Head of the SAT division not only because he was one of the leading teachers in terms of students’ success and satisfaction, but also thanks to his involvement and initiatives in many processes the division went through- R&D, new pilot courses, and others.
Once promoted to division head, Joe’s impact on the company grew exponentially, and he turned our losing division into one that was highly profitable and prestigious for the company. Joe quickly went beyond the confines of his job description as Division Head. While he was responsible only for dealing with customer satisfaction and profitability, Joe started marketing and sales processes in the SAT division. This included initiating a new approach to the section’s branding, with which he won a very large governmental tender, putting our company back on the map of the SAT scene in the country. After observing Joe’s work, I understood that what made him such an important part of our company was the way in which he motivated people into action. One of the most incredible phenomena I remember was seeing how the SAT teachers, who made less money than teachers in other companies we owned and who faced numerous challenges in their work, were so devoted to the work and devoted to Joe as a manager. They even referred to their work as an important mission; something they felt had to be done.
For these reasons, Joe was next promoted to the position of Vice President of marketing and sales, where he continued to have a strong impact on our company, and a year before he left us he was promoted again to the position of Vice president of Product Development, being in charge of all teaching activity in our company, and of all 275 teachers in both the SAT and the Matriculation divisions.
Regarding Joe’s ability to work with others, as I mentioned earlier, one of Joe’s strongest qualities is his ability to move people. People went out of their way to please him, to do their work in the best way possible. He changed the whole atmosphere at our company – for the first time since I began working there, people believed deeply that they were doing something significant, that they were part of something big. It happened first with the SAT division, and again with his subordinates when he reached higher positions.
Perhaps even more exceptional is that this same devotion and appreciation was expressed by Joe’s peers. The entire team worked better, had more team cooperation, and after a short time, I myself became a ‘believer.’ The company became more precious and important to me.
Joe was also an excellent and fair manager and peer, and he always put the interests of the company above his own personal comfortability. One very good example of this concerned one of Joe’s direct subordinates, an area manager who we thought would cause problems for Joe when he was promoted to Vice President. This subordinate was married to one of the senior VPs, a superior of Joe. He was a very highly esteemed teacher who also ran the biggest branch with high success, and who had seen himself as a very good candidate for Joe’s job. We were worried that he would impose difficulties and question Joe’s authority and leadership, but when Joe chose his 3 area managers, he convinced us that this man should be one of them. Joe said he was an original thinker and a hard worker, and he wanted these qualities in the people near him. He said he was willing to deal with all the conflicts that might arise, in order to gain the advantages. While indeed things were difficult in the beginning, and the area manager constantly questioned Joe’s decisions, one day Joe informed me that the opposition was weakening, and the teamwork was becoming better. And finally, when I had a private interview with all my workers, I talked with this area manager and heard from him how he appreciated and respected Joe.
As Joe’s superior, one thing that struck me about him was that when he believed in something, he was not afraid to say it. Even though it may have been viewed in his superior’s eyes as not nice, or not popular, he was honest about his beliefs. Joe and I sometimes thought differently about things and we would argue for hours with enthusiasms and passion. His arguments were always backed up with reason and logic, as well as research. Although I was his superior and more experienced than him, more than once I was convinced that he was right and changed my decision. When reason was on my side, Joe accepted it without having any ego issues about being wrong.
4. In what ways could the applicant improve professionally? How does he/she accept constructive criticism?
As mentioned before, in all the years Joe worked in our company, he learned from practice only and had no theoretical basis. This showed on a few occasions when he would have to do deep research in order to reach some marketing or strategic decisions. The lack of theoretical knowledge only motivated him to read more and educate himself. I believe that with his unique combination of abilities and talents, and with his high intellect and learning capacity, graduate studies could make him capable of achieving almost any goal that he aimed at. That would be the best professional improvement for Joe, and I’m glad he is doing it.
Joe has no problem in admitting he was wrong or asking for feedback. During a long period of time, I was tutoring Joe and having one on one sessions with him almost on a daily basis. During these sessions Joe brought up some of the decisions or actions he has taken, asking for my opinion on them. Joe is a very charismatic-born leader, so I cannot say that he has no ego at all. However, when it comes to mistakes he has made, it all changes. He assumes complete responsibility for his actions, no matter how wrong or silly they were. He craves learning all the time, and so doesn’t mind being wrong from time to time and being criticized for it.
5. Comment on your observations of the applicant’s ethical behavior.
During all the years I have worked with Joe, he was a role model for his workers and peers in many aspects, including his ethical behavior. I trusted him and never had any doubt about the budgets he managed or the projects he led. A good example of his integrity and ethical behavior is that as head of the SAT division, Joe was responsible for all the teachers’ wages. The policy at the time was that once a year the excellent teachers got a considerable rise in their wages; the good teachers got a smaller raise and so on. Joe was one of the excellent teachers, as his students’ satisfaction surveys showed repeatedly, but he was also head of the division. Only when we promoted him to be Sales and Marketing Vice President, did I find out that during all the years that Joe was teaching and running the division, all the teachers got raises but him. When I asked him how come he stayed on the same wage level for so long, he told me he just didn’t feel it was right for him, as head of the division, to give himself a raise as a teacher.
6. What do you think motivates the candidate’s application to the MBA program at Columbia Business School?
Joe was always an entrepreneur, and during all the years in which I worked with him, he was always initiating processes, thinking originally, changing conceptions, and taking everyone after him. So when Joe came and told me he wanted to open his own company, I wasn’t surprised. I have been following his career, he keeps me informed, and I was privileged to help him in brainstorming about his company. I see that Joe has huge potential as an entrepreneur – he has already created a very successful company – but I know that he has never received any formal education in the area. I think that now is the perfect time to pause and, before moving to the next level, learn the theory, which he can put into use by working for a time in the United States. There he can learn from the best in the field, and this will help him enormously, later on, to promote and advance his own company, to open other companies, and in my opinion, become a leader in the business world.
From the little I know about Columbia Business School, entrepreneurship is promoted both in the syllabus and in extracurricular activities. I believe that the emphasis on entrepreneurship along with the famous academic level of Columbia were the main reasons that drove Joe to apply to study there.
7. If you could change one thing about the applicant, what would it be?
If I were to change one thing it would be to make Joe a ‘tougher’ manager. In my opinion, Joe’s major strength is in motivating people – he drives them to feel devotion for the team’s goals and a commitment to Joe as their manager. A lot of this is because of his sympathy for his workers and patience for their mistakes. While I appreciate it, I think that on some occasions Joe was too patient with some workers in a way that made him work much harder for no reason. More than once Joe gave some of his subordinates a second and third chance, while in my judgment they did not deserve it. Joe compensated for their mistakes, so the results were not compromised. But I thought (and told him so) that sometimes a leader has to be a little less sympathetic and know how to “draw the line” for his subordinates.
8. Are there any other matters which you feel we should know about the applicant?
I believe I have said it all. I will simply end by saying that I believe Joe will have this profound effect – both on people and organizations – wherever he goes. He will be an enormous asset to your program and to his future classmates, and by accepting Joe you will be ensuring that your class has truly one of the best young managers – and best young people – that our country has to offer.