Vivek Mehrotra
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Succession Planning (Part I)

Has it ever happened to you that while you were driving back home from an outstation trip, a speeding car suddenly came from the opposite direction, went out of control, crossed the median, and came almost in front of you. However, you could manage to prevent your car from a collision. Well, you had a narrow escape, yet I am sure that the next few minutes must have been quite horrifying. You must have felt as if your heart pounced into your mouth due to an abrupt increase in heart rate. Nevertheless, after some time when your heart beat came down and you became normal, you would have resumed driving back home. Do you remember the thoughts that would have come to you at that time?

  • What if my car would have collided with the one that lost control?
  • What would happen to my family?
  • Have I made sufficient arrangements for them to live comfortably after my death?
  • Have I informed my spouse/children about all my investments?

And so on. Such thoughts are quite natural. All of us take things around us for granted. Until a tragedy strikes, let alone planning for the worst, we do not even allow such thoughts to persist in our mind. I distinctly remember when in 2001 an earthquake had struck Gujarat located in western India. I ran down the steps barefoot, with my family, to get out of the building. I took no money, cheque books, credit cards or car keys. Even the doors of our flat were left unlocked. On that day, I had thoughts similar to the ones mentioned above.

  • What if my building would have collapsed and only I could not have come out of it?
  • What would have happened to my family?
  • Have I made sufficient arrangements for them to live comfortably after my death?
  • Have I informed my wife about all my investments?

Is this situation true to corporate life as well?

  • What if something happens to the CEO or to a senior executive of an organization?
  • Who will replace him?
  • Will the new incumbent have the maturity and the desired competence to execute all responsibilities?
  • Are people other than him, groomed enough to fill the void that would be created by his absence?

It is true, calamities do push us to plan for the worst and that is where the need for a solid ‘Succession Plan’ arises. Is your organization ready with a succession plan to deal with a situation, which may arise due to the sudden death of any of its senior executive?

  • What is the state of preparedness at your organization?
  • Are you ready with what is referred to as the ‘bus crash envelope’?
  • Have you named somebody who can replace the CEO, at least on an interim basis, giving you the time to choose his/her successor?

This is important. The fast-food giant, McDonald's Corp., did exactly the same. Within hours of the sudden death of its 60-year-old Chairman and CEO, Jim Cantalupo, the Board of Directors, announced Charlie Bell, the 43-year-old President and COO as his replacement. This swift decision by the organization gave an immediate reassurance to all the stake holders, the employees, the franchisees, and the investors. Everyone came to know and rested assured that a knowledgeable leader was in place, who will provide continuity of business.

McDonald's is not the only company, which lost its senior executive suddenly; Gillette too had lost its 61-year-old Chairman and CEO, Colman M. Mockler due to a heart attack while at work in his office. Though, the name of Alfred M. Zeien, President and COO, was decided few months back, the question as to who would succeed Mockler, remained unresolved for a while. The Board of Directors took an entire month but announced the name of Zeien as the new Chairman and CEO..

(Excerpts from the talk delivered on Succession Planning at Malaysian HR Congress, Kuala Lampur)

Vivek Mehrotra

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