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We all like to read stories of redemption and vindication.  These are themes that the late radio commentator Paul Harvey revisited many times in his afternoon broadcast.

In a wonderful, eye-opening book, “Talent is Overrated”, Geoff Colvin, a long time editor and Columnist for Fortune magazine, shares a story that Paul Harvey would have liked:

 “In is mid 1978, and we are inside the giant Procter & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati, looking into a cubicle shared by a couple of twenty-two year-old freshmen fresh out of college.  Their assignment is to help sell Duncan Hines brownie mix, but they spend a lot of time rewriting memos according to strict company rules.  They are clearly smart:  one has just graduated from Harvard, and the other from Dartmouth.  But that doesn’t distinguish them from the slew of other new hires at P&G.  What does distinguish them from many of the young go-getters the company takes on each year is that neither man is particularly filled with ambition,” Mr. Colvin writes.

They seemed to excel in one area:  trashcan basketball using wadded up memos.

If you took a poll of their fellow P&G recruits, these two slackers would have easily won the prize for future executives who would never amount to much in business or in life. 

Who were these two bozos who apparently were determined to waste a prized job opportunity that so many other would have killed for? Both went on to command highly successful U.S. corporations before the age of 50:  Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric and Steve Ballmer of Microsoft.

To borrow a line from Mr. Harvey, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

© 2012 John Gregory Self
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