In light of the recent news that Mary Burke was fired from Trek, it is worthwhile to evaluate her resume in more depth. I briefly examined her job history in a column last month, but let’s take a closer look from the perspective of a potential future employer.
After graduating with an MBA from Harvard, Burke was a consultant for a couple of companies for a couple of years. This is a relatively common and easy path for a newly-minted Harvard grad to take. After a short tenure with no notable achievements, Burke was hired by her father’s company to run their European operations in 1993. After three years in this position, Burke left the company for a two-year snowboarding sabbatical.
This is an interesting event in Burke’s job history. Burke originally claimed that after doing a remarkable job and growing sales from $3 million to $50 million, she was burnt out (after a whopping 5 years in the job force) and decided to take some time off. In recent reports, two former executives – including her boss’ boss – shared with news outlets that Burke was fired for poor performance. Since that revelation, Burke has changed her story and now says that her position was eliminated after the company restructured.
Let’s examine that… let’s pretend for a moment that we believe Burke’s new story. Does it make sense? She has claimed that she grew sales from $3 million to $50 million in three years. If true, that is an incredible achievement. Unfortunately, she has never backed up that claim with any proof. We are supposed to take her at her word despite some news stories from the period that appear to make her claim almost impossible. So we are supposed to believe that after this remarkable success, she was restructured out of a job at her family’s own company? If she was so good, why wasn’t she promoted? Or snapped up by another company? Good executives are difficult to come by and a successful one should have been able to find a new position quickly.
But she didn’t. She went snowboarding for two years.
What is more likely closer to the truth? An amazingly talented and successful executive quits to take two years off after three years of work? Or that she was failing and we eased out of the company before she could do more damage?
The rest of her resume begins to answer that question. After Burke’s time away, she returned to Trek in a non-management position where she worked for another 9 years. She neither claims, nor does anyone note, any particularly impressive achievements during that period. It appears to have been a job to give her something to do where she could contribute, get paid, and generally stay out of the way. What is also worth noting is that after her self-celebrated remarkable achievements during her previous stint at Trek, she was not put in an upper-management position. It is not what one would call a promising career progression for someone who claimed to be a talented executive.
After 9 years of mediocrity at Trek, she was appointed as Commerce Secretary for Governor Doyle. As a rich lefty donor with a private sector history, it was a sensible appointment for Doyle. Her short, two-year tenure in government was not marked with any notable achievements. She again quit, or was squeezed out, with different stories for why. Her predecessor labeled her performance a “disaster.”
Mary Burke spent the next 7 years unemployed. She dropped over $100k to be elected to the Madison School Board. And now she wants to be governor.
If you were on a Board of Directors looking at resumes for a potential CEO for a $25 billion organization, would you hire her? What I see is a person who started out her career in a promising fashion. She is highly educated and quickly took a high-level job – even though it was with her family’s company. After three years where she claims to have been successful, but can’t document that success, she left and took two years off. She claims she was downsized, but her former boss’ boss and the head of HR at the time say she was let go for poor performance. After two years off, she returned to her family’s company and pushed paper for almost a decade before getting a job in politics. Since then she’s been unemployed.
Is she qualified to run a $25 billion organization with tens of thousands of employees?
I think not.