Our client was a major global industrial group, headquartered in Switzerland. Their successful and long-serving Chief Executive was two years away from retirement and the Board wanted to ensure that they had visibility of the best of both the internal candidates and the external market before making a decision on succession.
Our approach involved two parallel processes. Firstly, we met with 15 of the ‘next generation’ of the group’s leaders for c.2 hours each, discussing their career to date and ambitions for the future. The output of this was a report on each which highlighted their strengths, weaknesses and development potential. This report was shared with each of the participants and enabled the Board and CEO to understand better their internal talent pool, both individually and collectively. On the basis of these reports and existing internal assessments of their capabilities, a number of the participants were promoted to the Group Executive Committee over the next year, and the Board took a much more active role in executive succession and the talent pipeline.
In parallel with this, we conducted a global search of the external market to identify and approach the best candidates. At this exploratory stage our client’s name was not mentioned; however, we were able to go back to our client with a realistic sense of the available external market and to discuss the trade-offs against the internal candidates.
There was then a pause in the process whilst the Board familiarised themselves with the internal candidates, who were now member of the Executive Committee, and reflected on the nature of the strategic and commercial challenges that would face the new Chief Executive.
After nearly a year the process restarted, with us approaching both new external candidates and recontacting those whom we had met before. The outcome of this was a longlist of external candidates, all of whom were firmly interested and potentially available. This was done discreetly, without any noise in either the investor world or the company itself.
The Nominations Committee chose to meet five external candidates, who came from five different countries and three continents, alongside the lead internal candidate. This was then reduced to two candidates who were met by the wider Board, from whom one emerged as the unanimous choice. The thorough nature of the process gave the Board the confidence to appoint the first ever outsider as Chief Executive in the group’s 100 year history.