The winter sun shone spectacularly over Lake Michigan, reflecting Pam Sharp’s buoyant mood. She loved a thorny business problem promising big risk and an even bigger payoff, and after a week on the job, she was ready to dive in. From her new office on the 23rd floor, she had an expansive view of both the lake and downtown Chicago, now dusted with a light coating of January snow. She smiled to herself as she imagined the 70-degree weather back in Palo Alto, but Pam knew she’d made the right move.

Pam never expected to become the chief human resources officer of Exalted Industries. With a meteoric career in sales, she had been recruited to Trajectory Systems, an Exalted subsidiary in Silicon Valley, as its chief sales officer. Weak revenues had threatened the company’s survival, and Trajectory CEO David Craig had brought her in to turn things around. A chance meeting with a young data whiz led Pam and her team to embark on a series of data analytics initiatives, transforming sales enablement. In a relatively short time, the company was back on track to hit its revenue targets, and David Craig was promoted to CEO of Exalted.

After just a year leading Exalted, David had flown Pam to Chicago for a mysterious dinner meeting, revealing that the company faced more serious challenges than he’d expected: revenue was down, as were margins, customer satisfaction ratings, and the stock price. The media was extolling competitors’ innovations, while Exalted, ...

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