Purpose – This paper seeks to understand whether significant senior management and structural changes within an Australian university is the result of learning or other influences and how these explain the impact of change on the careers of two individuals within the organisation. Design/methodology/approach The organisation and the changes are introduced followed by a microcase study of two individuals aspiring to the same position. The cause and effect of changes are considered from organisational learning, structural, political and emotional perspectives. Findings Organisational learning was not found to be the primary cause of the changes. (Re)structure was used to increase horizontal power and authority. Decisionmaking ranged from rational to emotional based on the strengths of one's political affiliations. Research limitations/implications Limitations exist by virtue of a restricted number of objects of interest being studied. Practical implications This paper seeks to challenge the individual to understand the dynamics within their organisation and to respond in a rational rather than emotional way to organisational change so that they can benefit from or at least learn from the changes at a personal level. Originality/value The paper considers a range of organisational perspectives and offers a general model of the relationships between structure, power, rationality, emotions, and the unitary v. pluralist views.