Share (some of) the hardships

Allow me to introduce you to Marv Antoinette. Marv is a vice president with a well-respected manufacturing firm, one recognized for its leading-edge human-resource and empowerment practices. And Marv himself isn't a bad guy, as the people who work with him will tell you. He's competent and fair, and expects the same of those who report to him. You would like Marv. Marv would like you. Marv, however, made a mistake recently. You see, Marv has big ambitions for his unit of the company, plans that include a major global expansion. And Marv is determined to go global the right way; he intends to spark a revolution in his firm, not only selling his products outside the U.S., but designing and building them there, too. Marv wants a worldwide infrastructure that will support long-term market development. This revolutionary ambition has led to long hours for Marv and his team, as well as a significant increase in international travel. But because Marv has been competent and fair, his direct reports have accepted, even embraced, his ambition and the personal compromises -- lack of time with family and friends, for example -- required of them. They understand that building a business requires sacrifices on the part of everyone involved. Or at least they thought they understood, until Marv's faux pas. Like most companies, Marv's employer has restrictions not on how much an employee can travel, but on how well. At this manufacturer, for instance, business-class air fares are reserved for vice-presidential rank and higher -- unless a lower-ranking employee receives advance permission from his or her vice president. Most of the time, in most units at this firm, the policy isn't an issue; only VPs are flying across the big water frequently enough for the topic to matter. Marv, however, recently asked one of his midlevel executives to make a quick trip deep into China, with an equally fast turnaround. The chosen exec -- assuming that Marv would want him to be fresh from 16-odd hours of air travel each way, both for his Chinese meetings and the immediate debriefing at home -- asked Marv to O.K. a business-class fare some $5,000 more than coach. "Absolutely not!" was Marv's reply. "Do you know how many domestic flights this unit can take for $5,000?" In another circumstance Marv might have become a legend for unwavering commitment to his business goals. Unfortunately for Marv, his employees knew that he himself was scheduled to fly to Europe -- just seven hours away -- on a business-class air fare the very next week. They also knew the difference between Marv's champagne flight and the peanuts in economy class: $5,000. In a week, Marv managed to squander several years of accumulated goodwill. And though he doesn't know it, his employees -- formerly his biggest backers -- have a new phrase any time Marv or his ambitions come up in conversation: Let them fly coach. Marv has his revolution, all right. The only question now is whether he'll keep his head. Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

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