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ForbesAn ex-Havard prof claims two recruiters copied his how-to book. How can you tell?
Management advice is a book category that involves the recycling, repackaging and regurgitation of bromides. How many different ways can you say "Get close to the customer"? So now here comes what has to be a first: An author of a how-to book claiming his material was ripped off by another.
The book in question is You're in Charge-Now What?, written by two of the nation's most sought-after executive recruiters, Thomas J. Neff and James M. Citrin of search firm Spencer Stuart. Published recently by Crown, the book got gushy publicity-a seven-page excerpt in the Jan. 24 Fortune and favorable book reviews in Time and the Wall Street Journal. In January Citrin chatted with Today's Katie Couric about how new executives need to hit the ground running.
Michael Watkins, a former Harvard Business School professor, observed all this with gritted teeth. He says he has found "extensive parallels" between You're in Charge and two management books he wrote while at Har-vard: The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels (2003) and Right from the Start: Taking Charge in a New Leadership Role (1999), which he co-wrote. Watkins says he's exploring a copyright infringement suit. An associate professor specializing in leadership and negotiation from 1996 to 2004, he is now a management consultant with Genesis Advisers, near Boston.
Outrageous, says Citrin, who insists he didn't even see Watkins' First 90 Days until after finishing You're in Charge. "I found it to be very different than our book and very academic," he says. Whatreally ticks off Neff and Citrin is that Watkins wrote a complaining letter to book-jacket endorsers, including Time Warner Chief Executive Richard Parsons. Now the two headhunters are consulting lawyers about possible defamation charges.
Watkins would likely have a tough case if he proceeds. You can copyright a sentence but not the ideas it repre-sents. He may be having regrets now anyway. Near our deadline Watkins said he was under "threat of legal action" from Crown and asked to retract his claims. Seems Watkins skipped over the media-advice section in You're in Charge that advises: "Don't try to come across as smarter than you are. You could get lucky-or you could be terri-bly embarrassed."