How Quickly Do You Know You’ve Hired The Wrong Executive?

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“I’m playing hurt, Brett,” Our VP Sales, “Tom”, said to me. Tom had just joined the company the week before, and now he was telling me that he couldn’t travel because of a knee injury that had bothering him for months.

“Why hadn’t Tom told me?” I asked myself. He could have easily disclosed this during one of our many conversations.

It wouldn’t have changed my opinion of Tom one bit. In fact, I would have been ever more inclined to hire Tom because he was being upfront and honest.

Instead, I was finding out that our new VP of Sales couldn’t travel for the first two months.

“That’s no big deal,” I said. I knew there were plenty of customers here in the Silicon Valley for Tom to meet with.

Instead, Tom stayed anchored to his office and his phone.

Two weeks in and I was wondering whether we had made a mistake.


Finally about a month later, Tom traveled back east to interview potential east coast sales manager candidates and meet customers. Tom interviewed candidates, but he didn’t meet with any customers.


Now, I was getting really nervous about Tom. I knew in my bones that I had likely made a terrible decision.

When Tom got back, we had our regularly scheduled 1:1.

It was a month before the end of the quarter, and I was worried. Sales were a little behind schedule, and we were going to have to push to meet our number for the quarter.

I walked Tom through the numbers, and I asked him what his plan was to meet the goal. His answer was downright frightening.

Tom said, “I’m focused on building my team, not on meeting the numbers.”


I was stunned. Now I knew I had made a huge mistake.


As calmly as I could, I told Tom that his number one goal was meeting his numbers.

“Oh, okay,” he said. The look on Tom’s face was that of a little boy who’d been told he’s screwed up.

Three months, start to finish, and I knew I would have to fire Tom.


But when I really look back at the situation, the warning signs were there during the interview process.


Tom had come highly recommended from two of my board members. They had worked with him in another startup, and Tom had delivered excellent results.

So I saw what I wanted to see when I interviewed Tom: A solution.

Tom certainly conducted himself appropriately when I interviewed him. He looked the part of a VP sales.

And Tom’s answers to my interview questions were good, but not great. He just couldn’t get specific about anything.

But I saw what I wanted to see. Plus any doubts I had were erased by the two board members, who I respected, standing up for Tom.


You need to trust your instincts.


It was a horrible mistake on my part that I should have prevented. We wasted three months with a VP Sales who should have never had the job.

I ended up firing Tom and none of the board members objected, not even the two that stood up for him. But that’s not the point.

Don’t let outsiders sway your thinking. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. That was where I made my mistake with Tom.

For more, read: How Do You Know It's Time To Fire Someone?


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