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Corporate crisis a career-killer?

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The most stressful period in Mark Rodriguez’s life occurred in 2005. As the newly promoted CEO of Atkins Nutritionals Inc., he had to file for bankruptcy court protection for the company.

Throughout the corporate crisis, he kept up with important contacts, calling them monthly with five-minute updates about the challenging assignment. Seeking feedback from his network paid off. “All of my references came from that group,” he says today.

A corporate crisis could kill your career or it could position you for future success. Tips for handling a corporate crisis in a way that benefits your career:

• Do extensive homework before joining an employer. Alfred Mockett joined Motive Inc. as CEO only to discover, 90 days in, that the company’s problems were much bigger than he’d thought.

“My personal due diligence ... turned out to be flawed,” he says. “I didn’t realize I was walking into a company with negative net worth.” He spent the next three years fixing Motive, which Alcatel-Lucent subsequently bought.

• Resist the desire to quit. Or, at least, decide immediately after a crisis erupts whether you’re going to quit or stick it out, advises Rodriguez.

He considered resigning after Atkins Nutritionals’ bankruptcy filing, but “I stayed out of loyalty to the team.”

• Keep meticulous records about your crisis management. Once installed as CEO at Motive, Mockett steered the company through an accounting mess that included a federal probe, investor lawsuits, five years of restated earnings and delisted shares of the company.

Not surprisingly, he concluded the experience with a lot of knowledge, which he’d carefully compiled in a foot-high stack of binders, with “handwritten notes for all inside and outside meetings,” as well as SEC filings.

When the time came for him to take the helm at Dex One, he knew “which questions to ask of whom” during his due diligence.

— Adapted from “How to Handle a Corporate Crisis,” Joann S. Lublin, The Wall Street Journal.

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