Succession: Who’s Best Prepared to Lead?

Susan Hall

Attention on succession planning seems to have waned after all the hoopla over who would lead Apple after Steve Jobs. Tim Cook has demonstrated his ability to lead the company, though that’s still being questioned as Apple stock backs off its previous stratospheric rise.

The frequent changing of the guard at companies such as HP and Yahoo, though, has observers wondering whether those execs can actually right those ships.

A piece at Harvard Business Review, however, makes the point that naming a successor should not be a horse race. Rather than appointing an executive who has met all the metrics – who’s ahead – it should be based on who’s best prepared to lead.

The article points to a 2012 study by the Institute for Executive Development that noted three major problems that companies face:

  • Lack of a coherent strategy for executive development.
  • Lack of a formal process for developing successor candidates.
  • Lack of candidates ready to take the CEO job.

It suggested clarifying roles and objectives for those involved in succession planning and developing relevant metrics to determine a candidate's true effectiveness.

The article’s author, executive consultant John Baldoni, writes:

Likely most candidates will likely rate highly when it comes to "making the numbers," e.g. fulfilling their objectives, but not all will be equally adept when it comes to "playing well with others."

Apple’s ouster of Scott Forstall, its senior vice president of iOS Software, and Microsoft giving the boot to Steven Sinofsky, who led the development of Windows 8, are two examples of that, Baldoni says.

He advocates thinking beyond the next successor, to include the next two or three, the “succession development” described by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith in his book, “Succession: Are You Ready?


Intel has a history of developing successors at least a decade out, so when CEO Paul Otellini announced he will retire in May, observers jumped on the board’s announcement that it will consider external as well as internal candidates.

Otellini, however, said at a December conference that he expects his successor will come from within. “I’m very comfortable with the internal candidates,” Bloomberg quotes him as saying.

The same day Otellini’s retirement was announced, three executives were promoted, making them prime candidates for the CEO job, Bloomberg says.



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