PERSPECTIVE: Knowing when to bow out is a CEO’s biggest challenge

For people interested in power, and who spend half their lives in pursuit of it, giving it up is one of life’s tougher calls. We can all think of people who hire pygmies in order to appear more of a giant and cling on to the top job.

For people interested in power, and who spend half their lives in

pursuit of it, giving it up is one of life’s tougher calls. We can all

think of people who hire pygmies in order to appear more of a giant and

cling on to the top job.



Others deliberately hire greater talents and must deal with the

consequences of working themselves out of a job.



Few agencies manage succession adequately. This is partly because of the

culture of short-termism by which the industry is still hampered, but

mostly it’s far more basic: egos do not allow senior executives to

believe others are capable of doing their jobs.



Succession issues are everywhere. Recently, I interviewed John Dooner

(feature, next week), annointed successor to Phil Geier at the

Interpublic Group; then came the belated official announcement (a month

after it was revealed in Campaign) of Steve Blamer’s appointment as the

even more belated heir-designate to the venerable Ed Meyer at Grey New

York. While BBDO seeks a successor to Allen Rosenshine, DDB’s Keith

Rheinhard is grooming Ken Kaess. Then there is Tom Bell. Within months

of succeeding the extraordinary Peter Georgescu at Young & Rubicam, he

must decide whether to lend his approval to WPP’s bid for Y&R and, in so

doing, cede the power he has just won.



Geier and Meyer presided over periods of spectacular growth at their

respective companies. But the reality of business in a bull market and a

global economy is that no chief executive can now be satisfied with the

company’s performance without reference to rivals.



Grey is a good example. Quarter upon quarter, year after year, Meyer

produced sterling growth figures. But suddenly, with global mergers,

diversification into non-traditional advertising services and the

new-media boom, other agency groups powered ahead faster. Grey, now

firmly in the chasing pack, began to look sluggish.



Whether the septuagenarian Meyer’s age is really an issue or not, the

fact that it is perceived to be so means that it is.



IPG is unquestionably in the global premier league, with Geier himself

still capable of the bold move. He came close to challenging the status

quo on client conflict with his thwarted attempt to buy MacManus last

year. However, there is no doubt that Dooner will bring a renewed burst

of energy to IPG, flush as he is with success from McCann-Erickson, now

one of the best-performing of all agency networks.



Meanwhile, Bell has just taken the reins of a major agency group. He

wouldn’t be human if for this reason alone he was reluctant to let

go.



But he is now the CEO of a major publicly quoted company, with

responsibilities that extend far beyond any personal agenda. Bell’s

decision will prove whether he is a worthy successor to Georgescu or

not, whatever the personal cost.



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