A little earlier this afternoon, Yahoo issued a press release announcing it has “formed a special committee to conduct a thorough review of CEO Scott Thompson’s academic credentials, as well as the facts and circumstances related to the review and disclosure of those credentials in connection with Thompson’s appointment as CEO.”
Paul Gomory, who has been recruiting CEOs into Silicon Valley companies for 30 years won’t say what he thinks this “special committee” should do, five days into l’affair Thompson. But Gomory does insist that his brand of “intrusive due diligence” would have quickly identified the disparity between the accounting degree that Thompson earned at Stonehill College and the computer science degree that Thompson has long allowed people to believe he earned.
Gomory talked with me earlier about why he’s so unsurprised by the debacle. Our conversation has been edited for length.
You’ve been recruiting executives into venture-backed startups and public companies for decades. How often do you discover someone lying about his or her resume, and are there early telltale signs?
I’ve probably had eight or nine candidates over the years who have made it well into my process before I discovered they were lying. What they have in common? I’d say they’re sociopaths. All were really good at telling stories, all were really good at impressing other people; they knocked my socks off, in fact. It’s to the point now where, when I sit back and think, “Dear God, this [candidate] is the answer to my prayers,” a little hair goes up on the back of my neck.
People like that are just really damn good, which is why you have to call references they don’t know, didn’t authorize, and don’t know you are calling. Any senior person who hands me a resume, I look at it, and I know someone who knows them who they don’t know I know.
We’re not calling Thompson a sociopath here; we’re just talking, of course! But if the person whose resume has some misleading details has an impressive track record, what then?
It’s very binary. Someone who is fudging about their education will fudge about other things. It’s why when I discover someone is lying, they get a bullet. I’d rather shoot the candidate than have [my client] shoot me.
Education aside, what kind of “fudging” do you come across?
There are many ways to inflate one’s self: the “Eastern regional sales manger” whose real title was account management; the one-man band who makes it sound as though he’d run a team; the guy who tells me he was promoted three times in four years and so just put that last job on his resume. Frankly, I don’t like someone leaving the impression that he’s been in this top-level job for four years; it’d be more impressive to me if I saw the three jobs he’d been promoted [into]. There are always gray cases, but I tend to make them black and white.
What are some of the educational “enhancements” you’ve seen? Do they look like that of Thompson or are they even more egregious?
I was searching for a VP of sales when Ascend Communications still had just 40 o5 50 people. I was sitting across from someone who’d been the VP of sales at two data communications companies already and had been very good in those roles. But when I went to verify that he’d received his B.A. from [California State University], as his resume stated, the school told me they’d never heard of him. So I told him what the school told me, and what did he say? “Gee, that’s never come up before. I’ll have to call the college and get that straightened out.”
And why did that response tell you something meaningful?
Look, I went to Amherst. If the school told someone they’d never heard of me, I’d be irate. They’ve been asking me for money for 30 years. I’d say, “What do you mean, they don’t have any record of me?” Every time I call these people [who’ve lied], they are very calm. He called me the next day to let me know he was withdrawing, but as I told him, I’d already withdrawn him because he’d been so calm and cool.
I had another guy who’d listed undergraduate work in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Minnesota and graduate work in electrical engineering at Stanford. Both schools told me they’d never heard of him. When I called to ask him about it, he just hung up the phone.
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