At a recent business networking event a man threatened to break my nose.

He called me a crook and a thief, and continued to threaten violence until someone bigger inserted himself between us. The aggressor turned away and talked to his companions. This shocked me deeply: it isn’t normal to experience such things at business events.

The backstory is that we had performed a high level search for him that didn’t work out as well as it should. The first candidate changed her mind the day before starting (perhaps she’d heard of his temperament) so, naturally, we set about finding a replacement, which was done quickly. The second candidate started and all was well. She was mildly concerned that the country manager (the charmer mentioned above) was out of the country a lot and she had to report to the CFO, which wasn’t really appropriate but, hey, we’re all professionals here. The company also hadn’t paid our final bill, an agreed condition if a client seeks a replacement. But we let that slide since the first candidate had been a disappointment for all parties.

But then they fired the second candidate just before the end of probation. There had been no proper warning that her performance wasn’t up to expectations, or hints to improve. They asked for a third candidate. We explained that we had done all we could. Straight away, they threatened legal action to recover their fees. We took legal advice and were assured that we had fulfilled our part of the contract. Finally it was agreed: they would withdraw legal action; we accepted they weren’t going to pay our bill and we didn’t have to provide more candidates. Document signed, end of story, or so I thought until recently.

Back to the event: his companions looked embarrassed but made no effort to stop him. Perhaps they have seen it before and, besides, they probably didn’t know the background. After much discussion with colleagues and friends, I still haven’t figured out what motivates that man or how he thinks that violence is acceptable – in any setting.  It will be interesting to speak to some of his staff: if he is so quick to threaten violence in a social setting, what is he like at work when he is under pressure? What does he say to his colleagues, and how do they deal with it?

Perhaps I received special treatment from a guy who’s usually pleasant and charming. But I don’t think so. He’s a bully; someone who is used to having his own way and who doesn’t react well when things don’t go 100% the way he wants. We often hear from great candidates who work for bullies and want to change jobs. Having seen that up close, I now understand exactly why.

As usual, let me know if you have any particular topic you would like to see covered here.

Gary Woollacott is an executive search consultant who works for Horton International in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. He can be reached at +84 8 3910 7682 or via woollacott@hortoninternational.com.