By David Dodson, Ryan Kissick
2017 | Case No. E620 | Length 16 pgs.

The Paul English case examines several managerial challenges that Paul English encountered during his first year as founder and chief executive officer of the travel start-up Lola.  By highlighting a series of complex professional situations across four distinct vignettes, the case provides an opportunity for students to practice difficult conversations, examine best practices in hiring and talent management, and evaluate how key decisions impact a company’s culture.

The first vignette highlights a complicated relationship between English and his cofounder/Lola’s chief technology officer (CTO), Cory Stephens.  About a year after founding Lola together, it became clear to English that Stephens was no longer the best person to serve as Lola’s CTO, nor did Stephens have the support of Lola’s board of directors.  Yet for English, the situation was far from straightforward.  English and Stephens had been close friends and colleagues for more than two decades.  Furthermore, if Stephens was fired, there could be massive financial ramifications for Lola due to the clauses in Stephens’ contract.

The second vignette examines one of the potential risks associated with English’s unique five-word performance review, when one of Lola’s employee takes offense at English’s direct and curt style of feedback.  English wonders how he should respond to the pushback, and what he might have done differently to avoid this uncomfortable encounter.  The third vignette showcases a company-wide debate about the persona of Lola’s Internet bot, a tool that gathered customer information and triaged customers to a human travel expert who could help them with their travel needs.  Lola’s bot had the persona of a female named Stacey, named after Lola’s VP of customer service.  However, many employees were upset about this decision for a variety of reasons.  English considers how he should manage the debate, as well as how he should communicate his decision to the company.

The final vignette reveals a key potential hire who has vastly different political views than English and the vast majority of Lola’s employees.  English is left pondering the role of political beliefs in the hiring process at Lola, including the potential impact on Lola’s culture.

Learning Objective

The Paul English case highlights several learning objectives: 1) Navigating a difficult professional relationship with a cofounder; 2) Giving effective performance reviews; 3) Managing emotionally charged company meetings; 4) Determining how to evaluate various criteria in the hiring of key employees.
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