Summary of Career Imprints

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Imagine that you’re an extremely bright 28-year-old M.B.A. graduate working for one of the world’s largest medical supply firms. You’re told on a Friday that you’ll be running a division in another country on Monday. Most reasonable people would consider that scenario outrageous and unrealistic. But it happened all the time at Baxter International, which placed young, relatively inexperienced employees in positions of extraordinary responsibility with no warning. Twenty-five years ago, many of those individuals became major players in the then-fledgling biotechnology industry. Harvard Business School professor Monica C. Higgins takes an exhaustive look at how and why a disproportionate number of former Baxter executives became so influential in biotech start-ups. Her extensive research reveals that Baxter was the ideal training ground for innovative thinkers and risk-takers. She sees Baxter as a textbook example of how imprinting corporate culture and values upon an individual can have a career-shaping impact. The book, though more scholarly than entertaining, provides insight into career imprinting and its implications. getAbstract recommends it to anyone interested in learning how individuals and industries are molded.

About the Author

Monica C. Higgins is an associate professor at the Harvard Business School. Her research on careers and leadership development has been widely published in professional journals.



Laying the Foundation

A large number of former Baxter International managers played significant roles in the development of the American biotechnology industry. From 1979 to 1996, ex-Baxter managers helped launch roughly 25% of all new biotechnology start-ups. This is not a coincidence. But what is it about Baxter, a huge medical supply company based in Deerfield, Illinois, that enables its employees to achieve great success at other companies? Why do former Baxter executives excel elsewhere while many executive alumni from other companies, for instance General Electric, struggle when they are transplanted? The answer is “career imprinting,” the factors and influences that shape the development of employees at a particular company. Career imprinting manifests itself in several categories:

  • “Capabilities” – This encompasses talent, expertise, and knowledge of the job and what a manager must do to meet its responsibilities. Executives benefit from having supervisory responsibilities early in their careers.
  • “Connections”– This involves an understanding of the web of internal and external relationships as they relate to a job. Establishing rapport...

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