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A Senior Appointment that Demands Continuity of Success

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

The news of Alex Ferguson’s departure came as a huge shock.  His track record as a manager was both remarkable and unparalleled. His leadership and decisions are almost unquestioned in a business where everything is scrutinised, exposed and criticised.

It comes on a week where Diageo boss, Paul Walsh, also gave his “last orders” and stepped down as the man in charge. Diaego’s chief operating officer, Ivan Menezes, was promoted and takes over from Walsh but, as in Alex Ferguson’s case, often in business there is no visible internal candidate that has been groomed for this role.

At Manchester United there doesn’t seem to have been an internal succession plan, where a future leader could be developed for this moment.

Leaders obviously need to work hard and have technical capability but they also need to energise others, delegate, command respect, be decisive, communicate, be resilient, balance short-term requirements with strategic long-term goals amongst a host of other competencies.

Is there a perfect candidate? The best available is the best any company can aim for. Any change period is difficult for businesses and it will potentially take time for impact. Giving confidence to any company’s many different stakeholders is vital and that’s what Sir Alex did with the players, fans, sponsors, shareholders and the stock market. New bosses do things differently and, no matter how small the difference, it will have impact.

But what will the targets of the new manager be?  How will they be measured and are they realistic?

New vision, insight and preferences will come into the business and this change will inevitably mean the team and staff will be unsettled and performance may be affected. Motivation and confidence of a successful team is hard to maintain.  One major question companies need to ask is do we appoint a transition leader for a few years to stabilise the company through such massive change, or someone who can build to achieve long-term goals? Getting it right is essential.  Any board needs to look to the future and not unfairly compare historically to times that were different.

Like Sir Alex Ferguson, senior roles in business are big football boots to fill.

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