Leadership Transitions: Handling a Search with a “Hand-Picked” Successor
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Recently, Major League Baseball formed a committee to find a successor to current commissioner Bud Selig, who has been at his post 20 years. It appears, however, that Selig already has someone he’d like to see take his place—current MLB COO Rob Manfred. Not all of the league’s owners agree with Selig’s candidate of choice.

The situation piqued the interest of our CEO Charles W.B. Wardell, III in that it is reminiscent of the type of dilemma or power struggle that many organizations experience when an outgoing leader—especially a CEO—tabs a hand-picked successor. The successor may be the right person for the job, but whose decision is it? The outgoing CEO’s? Not really, believes Wardell. While the outgoing leader can have a say in the matter, a leadership transition should be engineered by the board of directors.

Charles Wardell, III

Charles Wardell, III

“Is a hand-picked successor more trouble than he or she is worth?” Wardell asks in an article written for the latest issue of SportsPro Magazine. A hand-picked leader can often be the most prepared and the best cultural fit for an organization. But he or she can’t be given the job without an open competition. “The selection process has to be transparent, fair, and include other viable candidates,” Wardell writes. “An organization’s board or selection committee, and not the outgoing leader, has to control the process.”

Wardell provides advice for how organizations can best handle a leadership transition in which a hand-picked candidate is present. He gives additional insight on the topic in the most recent issue of Corporate Counsel (brief registration required). “Identifying just one person as designated successor risks alienating other leaders,” Wardell writes. If one executive is identified as next in line as CEO, what impact will that have on other executives who aspired to the position as well? How will the rest of the organization’s leaders feel?

In other words, there is danger in going “all in” on one person without a comprehensive search process, he summarizes. Boards of directors must be proactive and rigorous in conducting a recruitment in which the hand-picked executive, as well as other legitimate candidates, are given fair consideration.

What will happen with Major League Baseball? Wardell’s articles prompted an inquiry to him from Forbes contributing writer David Lariviere, who ponders the question whether 74-year-old former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre might be a good successor to Selig.

It’s not a bad idea, Wardell tells Lariviere. Torre is highly respected, plus he’s not likely to overstay his welcome as commissioner (as many people feel Selig did). “This would obviously not be a 20-year hire,” Wardell says. “It would be a nice way to make some reforms without being beholden to anyone for a long time.”

Choosing a new commissioner, or CEO, is no easy task. The hand-picked successor can throw a curveball into a leadership transition process but, says Wardell, a strong board that insists upon a fair search can make sure the next leader is the right person for the job.

By Paul Thomas, Strategic Communications Leader

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