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Charlie got his just desserts.

Another true tale from the front lines of how not to manage your career: A middle-aged, male vice president of a marketing firm found himself in the common but uncomfortable position of working for a company that was about to be acquired by a larger competitor. Mindful of the fact that the acquirer already had a vice president of marketing, a woman some years his junior, our anxious VP -- call him Charlie Smith -- came up with a plan to safeguard his salary and stock options. Instead of the barely concealed fear and obstructionism that the about-to-be-merged usually offer future co-workers during the due-diligence process, Charlie would proactively invite his rival's entire marketing team -- the VP and her two even younger lieutenants -- to review his operation in detail. Not only would Charlie have the opportunity to impress his likely new boss and colleagues with his marketing acumen, but he also would have several days during which to wine, dine, and otherwise charm them into seeing his enduring worth to their department, their company, and, in fact, the industry as a whole. It was brilliant, if Charlie did say so himself. The visit began well enough, with PowerPoint presentations and examinations of collateral material and invigorating discussions of market spaces and product evolutions, blah, blah, blah. The discussions continued through dinner at Charlie's favorite restaurant, where maitre d' and waiters -- trained by years of healthy tipping -- fawned over Charlie and his three female guests. Emboldened by wine and the day's apparent success in instructing his new peers about the vagaries of marketing on a small budget, Charlie made a show of motioning for the waiter. As the server leaned close, Charlie whispered and gestured expansively with his hands. His new colleagues looked at each other, then Charlie, in confused anticipation. When the waiter returned he brought with him two magnificent desserts, specialties of the house gleaming with calories and cunning artistry. He set one in front of each of the two younger women, bowed, and began to leave. Charlie stopped the waiter dead in his tracks. "But where's hers?" he asked, pointing to his prospective boss. "I'm sorry, Mr. Smith," replied the waiter. "But you said to bring something special for the girls, didn't you?" It's hard to say at that point who was more mortified: The female senior VP who looked older than she thought? The lieutenants who had just been reduced to teenagers? The waiter who had just lost the best tip he would likely ever see? Or Charlie himself, who would gladly have stuck the dessert forks into his own eyes to avoid the stares of the three colleagues he had just insulted beyond repair. To no one's surprise, Charlie didn't survive the merger. The girls, however, seem to be doing just fine. Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

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