Leadership transitions


Leadership transitions

This Sunday the BBC will broadcast a documentary on the leadership phenomenon that is Sir Alex Ferguson. Probably the only material criticism he must answer is that of choosing his successor. He defends the choice very well, but there is no question that the transition was a failure.

One of the greatest tests of any leader, certainly in business but actually in every walk of life, is managing the transition which comes when they move on. Why build Rome just to see it burn moments after you have gone?

The finest leaders mould or choose their successors to be better and stronger than they are. It shows both self-belief and selfless devotion to the organisation to ensure that things are better when you are gone.

In the week before the Ferguson documentary we saw clear evidence of the issue writ large. The Labour party’s failure to handle its last two transitions at a UK level sees it facing a long period in opposition as the Prime Minister walked straight into Tony Blair’s wardrobe and stole his centre ground getup.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party’s own transition is being stage-managed. The ready-made successor is Chancellor George Osborne. Maybe he doesn’t touch the hearts of his party or the country but his intelligence, guile and strategic flair should be in no doubt.

His party may choose the risk and reward of Boris Johnson or the steel of Theresa May. But whoever they choose, the transition is as much a moment of risk for them as ‘Brexit’, in what otherwise seems to currently be, a jaunt down easy street.

In Scotland the SNP’s leadership transition has been a model of how to do it. Having taken his party within touching distance of its goal Alex Salmond handed the baton to Nicola Sturgeon who has grown support for the party further. This is how to do it.

To less acclaim but with great effect the Aberdeen headquartered oil services firm Wood Group announced last week that the successful and likeable Bob Keillor was to retire and hand on to his COO Robin Watson.

Chairman Ian Merchant said: “Robin was identified as the stand out candidate to succeed Bob as part of our succession planning process, and we believe that his knowledge and experience will ensure an orderly transition. Robin has been with the group since 2010, has more than 25 years’ oil & gas industry experience and his appointment provides important continuity for our people and customers.”

The share price at time of writing is 706p, up 12.6% from the 625p it closed at last week. The market liked what it saw.

In Macbeth the death of Cawdor is reported by Malcolm “nothing in his life became him like the leaving it”.

The final test of ultimate leadership is to achieve the same acclaim.

Andrew Wilson
Founding Partner