Biggest Lesson Learned in the Corporate World

“So- who has some sales that they can close before the end of the year?”


I’ve been working in and around the corporate world for 30+ years, but this is my favorite story. I was selling a corporate insurance/ benefit product to corporations, and I was in a meeting with the CEO and the other salespeople. It was early November, and the CEO was going around the room to see if anyone had sale that they could get in the door by December 31st.

It’s important to know that the sales bonuses were 100% based on individual sales, while the CEO’s bonus was based on company-wide sales. You should also know that the CEO (I found out after I was hired) set unreachable sales goals- so no one ever got a sales bonus.

All of us salespeople were all thinking the same thing: why should I close a sale in 1998 and get no bonus? I can delay a sale into January of 1999 and have a better shot (at least some shot) at getting a bonus in 1999.


Two lessons here:

The CEO and the salespeople’s goals and compensation were completely misaligned.

Also, the CEO was promoted from head of sales, and he clearly was a narcissist (it wasn’t just me- the entire management team had him figured out). As the definition explains, narcissists have an “inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.”

Since the CEO thought that he was the only one who ever closed a sale, he didn’t value his sales force. Although he hired great people, the firm experienced constant turnover.

Here are some of the other biggest lessons I learned in the corporate world:

Turnover: The Red Flag

In my view, the first and most important interview question should be: “what’s your typical turnover rate in his department?”

Had I asked that question in the job listed above, I would have never joined the company. High turnover (higher than the industry average) is a sign of poor management, and should be a huge red flag for any job candidate.

I’d suggest that run out of the interview screaming but that might be a bit too dramatic.

Technology’s Impact

I started working in 1985, and I noticed in those first 10 year of work that some people just didn’t do anything at work. Now, that may sound crazy, but the ability to assign, monitor and critique work was just not there without technology. People simply had the ability to “hide” and not be accountable.

With technology, everyone can be held accountable- and everyone needs to know that before they start any job. If you “coasted” in your prior job, that may not be the case moving forward.

Admit a Mistake?

After years of short term thinking, short term blaming and a “hyper-results” corporate environment, I think we’re shifting toward a culture where admitting a mistake will not mean a pink slip.

I think millennials entering the work force have a lot to do with this, because once thing I love about millennials is their interest in a more balanced life. Unlike my generation (I’m 55), they are not defined in their 20s and 30s by what they do. My generation was more aligned with Gordon Gekko– at least some of us. (By the way: best character name ever, huh?)

My second interview question would be: ‘Tell me about a big mistake you’ve made and how you recovered from it.” If the interviewer frowns or shifts back in their chair, wish them well and leave. A person who can’t admit a mistake does not have self-awareness, and you shouldn’t work for them.

Deliver a Message

Nelson Wang has a great quote:

“Don’t underestimate the power of human emotion. It can change the game and inspire tens of thousands of people at a company.”

As an example, I don’t mind getting bad news- if the personal delivering the message is sincere.

Ignore the Naysayers

Many people resent others who are successful- succeed anyway.

Competence in King

I also loved CJ Howard’s comment:

“Day to Day, competence in king. Be good at what you do. Listen and learn from others. Seek out mentors and you’ll be surprised at how willing people are to help. Go the extra mile.”

At the end of the day, you have to provide a product or service, and do it well everyday.

Good luck!

Ken Boyd is the Co-Founder of and owns St. Louis Test Preparation ( He provides blogs, articles and speaking services on accounting and finance topics. Ken is the author of Cost Accounting for Dummies, Accounting All-In-One for Dummies, The CPA Exam for Dummies and 1,001 Accounting Questions for Dummies. Ken is a contributing writer for The Logical, and the CPA Blog. His YouTube channel (kenboydstl) has over 420 videos.


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