Case | HBS Case Collection | December 2004 (Revised April 2006)

Managing a Public Image: Rob Thomas

by Robin J. Ely and Ingrid Vargas


Rob Thomas describes some of the challenges he has faced as a white, middle-aged man who is managing director of a mid-size consulting firm where he is committed to increasing staff gender and racial diversity. Unwilling to risk the disapproval of any constituency, Thomas was initially paralyzed by his desire to appear as a fair and infallible leader. When a capable but undistinguished female consultant comes up for partner, Thomas decides to take a stand, but his efforts to get her promoted fail. In the end, Thomas questions whether he has been an effective leader in support of a cause about which he cares deeply. Thomas reflects on his image concerns, questioning whether they have undermined his ability to exercise leadership effectively.

Keywords: Leadership; Age; Race; Identity; Failure; Gender; Consulting Industry;


Ely, Robin J., and Ingrid Vargas. "Managing a Public Image: Rob Thomas." Harvard Business School Case 405-054, December 2004. (Revised April 2006.)