How NOT to Topgrade a Country (yes, Country!)

This article is just for fun.  It is the story my client told of his attempt to Topgrade his home country … by orchestrating a coup.  Seriously!  And over the years I’ve talked to dozens of citizens of his home country, and a third believe the following story, and the rest say there is probably some truth and a lot of exaggeration.

My client CEO was a very resourceful executive, but a very bad guy – I’m sure of both.  Since he headed a real organization and since he is out of jail and “consulting” with governments all over the world, naturally, I’ve created fictitious names – his, his organizations, and the country whose government he tried to overthrow.

Let’s say “Juan,” as I’ll call him, headed a global financial services company, generally considered to be one of the most innovative in the world.  Here’s where his story starts, and it eventually melds into the certain truth:  As a child, Juan was reared to prepare to overthrow the dictator, and at 20 years of age, he and a friend made the attempt, but failed.  They were strung up, the dictator sliced off his friend’s private parts, and when the dictator was about to do the same with him, he urinated in the dictator’s face.  Or so he told me.  The dictator decided to torture rather than immediately kill Juan, so he put Juan in a box similar to a coffin, where he was kept barely alive.  An artist from Juan’s country painted a modern picture portraying Juan in the box, with the lights of truth and freedom cascading off of the box, and I bought the painting (which is now in someone’s basement).

The dictator was overthrown six months later, Juan was hospitalized another six months, and 20 years later founded his company, with offices in 150 countries.  To emerge from the torture box to mold a respected global company for sure required resourcefulness, drive, brains, and guts. You’re thinking, “Brad, this guy sounds like a hero, so where’s the negative?”  You’ll see.

Juan hired me to help Topgrade the top three levels of his company, a three-year project.  Juan was the only senior executive not to go through the Topgrading process with me.  I told him that he should participate, too, so I could help build teams that would work best for him, but he said, “You might find out something I don’t want you to know, Brad.”  Indeed!

Early in my consulting engagement Juan invited me to go to Las Vegas, promising that we’d make $250,000 his “secret way,” and we’d have fun (“private jet, penthouse suite, no wives — just the guys, heh-heh”).  I’d heard Juan “fooled around a lot,” but not with women inside the company.  I was curious as to why Vegas hotels would pay all our expenses and then write us checks for $250,000, but didn’t ask.  Needless to say, I declined Juan’s offer, and he never asked me again.  It didn’t occur to me that Juan had a gambling addiction, because he showed me his net worth (in an estate document) — a half billion dollars.

Juan had a huge personality and ego.  I witnessed his ordering a U.S. senator to “get your ass over here now.”  I sat in on a meeting with 50 participants plus eight translators, and Juan masterfully molded the opinions of the group so that he would get exactly what he wanted.  In a champagne event where anyone else would toast three heads of state with grace and poise, Juan got away with an outrageous dirty joke.  I would have loved to put Juan though a Topgrading Interview and talk to people who had known him over the years, because he was unique and fascinating.  But it never happened.  The Topgrading engagement was packing the organization with talent and Juan was doing well as the leader, so it didn’t occur to me that Juan’s idiosyncrasies might include stealing from the company.  When my Topgrading assignment was over, we had a final dinner in Washington, DC, at the Watergate Hotel.  We toasted each other and said good-bye, with my wondering what the heck I didn’t know about Juan.

Two weeks later, the FBI marched into Juan’s offices, and just as in the first Wall Street movie, he did the perp walk.  Juan had bribed 10 consultants, contractors, and others to give him kickbacks on their contracts, apparently to support his gambling habit.  He’d take them to Las Vegas, get them girls, and persuade them to participate in kickback schemes.  The corrupt consultants didn’t do much work, which caused them some legal problems.  I was the only one of the consultants and contractors who was never even called by the FBI, I guess because there were so many of my reports that showed I actually did the work for which I invoiced them.  Juan tried to frame someone to take the fall for stealing, but it didn’t work.  He went to jail, was released three years later, returned to his home country, came back to the United States, and was arrested and jailed again or some additional illegalities.

Phew!  Why, when I suspected that Juan was a sociopath, didn’t I walk away from the engagement?  I didn’t know he’d bribed anyone, taken kickbacks, or had broken any laws, and I’d only heard vague rumors of the details of his Las Vegas trips and his marital difficulties.  And as mentioned, he showed me the figures in the huge estate he managed.  But somehow, when the truth came out, I wasn’t shocked.  I wonder how much of Juan’s darker side I might have seen had he participated in the full Topgrading process!

Published May 6, 2014

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