The sudden resignation of Ken Lewis from Bank of America highlights, yet again, the risks that family and other businesses take in failing to prepare for the inevitable succession of leadership.
A succession plan doesn’t mean you have all the work done and the perfect successor is comfortably waiting in the wings, although that would be desirable. It does mean, at a minimum, that you have an interim CEO in place who can hold down the fort while certain details are worked out and long term plans are implemented. Developing an emergency plan also gives the Board or family a chance to discuss these often thorny subjects without stockholder worries, employee hand-wringing or the emotional burden that comes with a fallen leader.
Often, this process highlight gaps within the family or board about the suitability of a particular successor. Say there is a current of uncertainty, or worse, a clear sense that the presumptive successor may not be up to the job. Sorting through this conundrum in an objective manner is far easier than to be forced into a hasty and ill-advised decision when the company desperately needs leadership. Where appropriate, this early planning will also enable leadership development efforts to close the qualification gaps that may emerge in these discussions.
We’ve all learned that we can’t avoid death and taxes. Succession planning belongs on that list, too, for it is equally inevitable. Start planning now to avoid a crippling and unexpected disaster to the company to which you’ve devoted your professional life.