Wolfgang Bremer ‏@WolfgangBremer: How does one market himself well inside a company to move up the career ladder?


When I worked at a corporate job I was scared to death. I didn’t know how I should act, dress, do, think, etc. I kept trying to kiss ass over and over and it just wouldn’t work. I kept trying to volunteer to do new things and it just wouldn’t work. My boss at the time even said to me, “don’t volunteer to do new things. Then you’ll be known as the guy that does those things and your workload will double without you getting extra pay for it.” I don’t know why he would say that to me. Perhaps he had his own issues.

That’s the thing, everyone in the corporate world has their own issues. They will all try to keep you down, while making themselves look good. They are all trying to maximize pay while minimizing work. Not everyone. Not the ones who do what I’m about to tell you to do.

But most of them.

On the second day of the job two things happened to me. One is: I was walking from Port Authority, where I had taken a 90 minute bus ride to get to work on time, to my office. The woman who was walking about three feet to my right on the sidewalk was walking one second and then lying on the ground dead the next second. She had been hit by a hit-and-run taxi. I called 911 at a payphone. There was blood everywhere. The ambulance came. I continued onto work.

The second thing that happened was that I was given a computer and told, “get this on the Internet”. I had no idea what I was doing. I ended up somehow wiping out the operating system on the computer. It was irrepairable. Everyone’s email on that computer got wiped out. There were no backups. There was no Internet that day. I had totally failed. I walked out on the hot summer day and called my girlfriend back in Pittsburgh, where I had left her behind, hoping I would leave her forever. I said, “I’m probably going to come back. I think they are about to fire me.” I then went back into the building, waiting to be fired.

But I kept going. I wanted to stay there. I loved the company. But I was stuck at the bottom and I wasn’t even good at it and everything around me was either getting wiped out or dying.

You can’t climb the corporate ladder. You have to fly to the top. The corporate ladder is too big. When I was at a big corporation my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss was the CEO of the company. And everyone was in their 40s or early 50s. There was no way I was going to climb any ladders.

But here’s what you do right now to maximize your chances to fly to the top:

– Learn the history of your industry. Everything. I worked at HBO which was part of Time Warner. I learned all about Time Inc. I learned all about Warner Brothers. I learned the history of HBO. I learned about every division within Time Warner, from DC Comics to Atlantic Records, to whatever. I learned about our fight-to-the-death competitor, Viacom. And then later (after Time bought Turner), Fox.

– Learn the history of the executives. I learned how the head of marketing went door to door in Louisiana selling Cinemax after Showtime came out. I learned about how my boss’s boss was a huge fan of Gurjideff so I read everything I could. I watched all the documentaries HBO put out because I wanted to get close to the head of documentaries even though I officially worked in the IT department.

– Exercise the idea muscle. I’m like a broken record saying this. But you want to be the go-to guy who comes up with ideas. And if you have an idea, don’t play politics. Go to the executive that best fits your idea. Let them steal it. Become Google. The source. Google doesn’t need credit if you search for “anal rashes” and find a good solution on another website. You’ll still go back to Google later anyway. Come up with ten ideas every day about how your company can be better. By doing this, you BECOME the company, not 8 levels down trying to get away with leaving as early as possible by doing as little work as possible. When I had ideas for other executives, no matter how high up, I’d go directly to their office and tell them. Later, word would get back to my boss and he would be upset and tell me, “Go through me first!” But I always ignored him, I always gave him FULL CREDIT for everything, and he was happy when he got promoted (even when people were congratulating me for being the source of his promotion).

– Finally, have lunch with all the secretaries. The heart of the company are the people who make everything happen. If you aren’t connected to the heart, you won’t get the blood and oxygen you need to thrive. You want to reach a certain executive, fall in love with the secretary. She is the vein connecting you. I had lunch with secretaries every day. Secretaries, assistants, Directors (the level below VP), all the people who are the veins and arteries of the company. My best friend at the company was the head of internal communications. He’s the one who could spread the word on any idea. Don’t play politics. Play friends in the sandbox.

(the secretaries run the company)

– Oh, one more “finally”: look for a new job. At least every two years. One head of HR once told me, “find your value in the marketplace every two years”. The job market is a market like any other and you want to make sure you are being compensated appropriately. Also, sometimes the best way to climb vertically is to leap horizontally. In fact, I was always looking for a new job, always looking for multiple streams of income. This way, if I ever got fired for wiping out a computer, I knew I would be able to survive. I was always on the lookout for anyone who would say, “if you ever leave HBO, give me a call.” And I collected quite a few business cards that way.

Finally (for the third time), the best thing you can do is simply love the product your company offers. If you don’t, then no amount of backstabbing, politics, lunches, ideas, history, whatever, will help you rise up. If you don’t love what you do then you’ll grow to hate it. And why at the end of your life would you look back and say, “I’m glad I spent 40 years doing something I hated.”