Has anyone skipped a corporate hierarchy layer? How did you do it?

From the book Powerhouse:

ERIC CARLSON: I never went onto a desk. I came out of the mailroom and went straight to being an agent. I think I’m the only guy who’s ever done that. What happened was while I was in the mailroom, I wrote a study on all the emerging television markets.

It took me three months and was like a thesis. I bound it with all the partners’ names on it, then personally handed it to each of them. I said it was a reference guide and included thoughts I had on what we should be doing in the future. Ovitz asked me why I wrote it, and I said, “Because I’m too smart to be in the mailroom; I should be an agent.” A few days later, Ray Kurtzman pulled me aside and told me Michael thought I had balls for doing what I did. It reminded him of what he did at William Morris: never accept no for an answer.

Michael promoted me out of the mailroom to agent a month later.

Does this actually work?


Yes, I think things like that can work presuming you do actually add value but only in the right context, and since about 2000 there has been a bear market in vitality and openness to creativity in most larger Anglo corporations. I think that’s coming to an end but it’s still early.

In a smaller place that was privately owned, put yourself in the shoes of the manager or owner - why wouldn’t you give someone more responsibility if you thought they were talented and could handle it.

At DE Shaw I worked for the former receptionist. He had dropped out of Princeton at 14, later gone to a liberal arts college, came to NYC as a carpenter and guitarist in a band. Shaw had advertised for a receptionist and JS applied and got the job. He taught himself C, wrote all the systems in the new fixed income group front to back and then moved into trading, eventually running half the group. He must have joined around the time Bezos was there. Is that firm still like that? Probably not is my guess because firms change as they mature. He did pass the test of being admitted to Princeton (doesn’t matter if you actually attend) so would he have had the same opportunity without it ? I think so. There are just certain times and places when there’s an openness to unusual talent.

The most successful CEO Goldman had was running the mail room… after his promotion. Sidney Weinberg started as an assistant to the janitor, scraping mud off the partners shoes. I don’t think that could be repeated at Goldman today.

One modern equivalent of that is via open source.

I hired a chap who was a baker in Spain. He studied programming, couldn’t get a job with the crisis in 2008, worked in his father’s business until he passed away recently. But he also got a few small patches into the Linux kernel and created a documentation project for newcomers. This was a few months back.

Friend at Cambridge couldn’t get a job except second rate management consultant, which he hated. Netscape had just done an IPO and nobody knew what to do about it. He wrote an analysts report to a bunch of banks and suddenly same places that had turned him down a year ago wanted to see him and he became a tech analyst at Goldman.

The key thing is to pick something low status today that is on the verge of becoming important. Or just something you can see that matters but is neglected.

Noticing things and recognising problems - these things are underrated in importance.

If someone impressed me by doing work then I would hire them or promote them. I’ve hired quite a lot of programmers just by being impressed by their work on GitHub. Eg found a Ukrainian guy who had just graduated and written his own JITted language - good clean code and well-designed and we could use those capabilities so I called him, spoke to him for half an hour and hired him. Process is a bit more structured now but similar.

I hired one guy because now and then he would correct me on Reddit very politely and he would always be right. I didn’t find out till after he moved to London to work with me that he had come in top few in his year in maths in Russia. But I didn’t need to know that.

I think networks >> hierarchies and that changes everything. With remote it’s about the work first and if you don’t promote people based on work then what are you doing?

Also information within organisations and between organisations wants to be more free and that naturally leads to noticing who is under promoted. Or will once people realise how firms must change to adapt.