• John Bowie

Keys to the Boardroom: Getting Passed Over

No one has a career without disappointments, including a CEO. One of the most discouraging experiences is being passed over for a promotion that you think you deserve….

I was working in the States but I had an international assignment, I was traveling outside the country all the time. And one year I was 17 or 20 weekends out of the country and I had young kids and a nice family life and I was beating myself up. I was down in Argentina at a North American Iron and Steel conference and my boss called me, and he said I don't want you to be upset about anything, but I wanted to tell you there has been a reorganization. And there is going to be a new vice president of marketing for the domestic division. But don't you worry about it.


I really thought I was a candidate for that job. The guy who got the job was a good friend, is still a good friend, and I didn't think that he could not do the job, I just thought that somehow I'd gotten placed into this international deal, and I was spending so much time traveling, that they had just sort of forgotten me. I was really upset.


That was the second time I floated my resume. And lo and behold again, before anything happened, I was offered the international assignment in Switzerland and then after that things took off. I came back from Switzerland as president of a division and then I became a group vice president, executive vice president and, even then, I was never sure that I was going to run the corporation. Whether I would be or not was really going to be more a question of timing and who was the right age and how long the president was going to stay around and how long the chairman was going to stay around. By that time, I didn’t care a whole lot. I was having fun. I enjoyed what I was doing.


John: Were you disappointed by not getting that one position? Did that strengthen you at all, did you learn something from that?


CEO: Well, it sobered me up a lot. It was humbling, I think. I never thought that I had a big ego, but it was humbling to put your resume together and go out in the job market and find out that you weren't going to be snapped up overnight. I don't think but maybe a couple times in my whole career did anybody ever proactively come to me and sign me up and by that time I was president of a division and I had a high visibility, but before that, man, I wasn't on anybody's search list. And why should I be? But when you go out on your own and shopping around, it can be a humbling experience. It’s really much more comfortable to stay where you are.

CEO of a Fortune 500 Chemical Company

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