Plan for a Graceful Executive Exit…or Face a Disaster CEO Departure.

fireworks over an office building

Smart “on the shelf” strategies can help you disaster-proof high-level departures and avoid a firestorm of negative publicity. (Photo Credit)

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen the departure of two very different CEOs in two very different ways with two very different results.

Daniel Vasella, long-time leader of global pharmaceuticals powerhouse Novartis, was the first departure, announced on 23 January.

Then on 28 January, Michael Clarke, head of the UK-based Premier Foods, announced his departure in a way reminiscent of former President Bush’s declaration of ”Mission Accomplished” a month after the banner flew behind him on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in 2003.

Unfortunately, like the premature Bush announcement about ending the Iraqi insurgency, Clarke may have jumped the gun by declaring victory in the battle for turning around what used to be the UK’s biggest food producer. An article in Financial Times quoted analysts who outlined the underlying challenges that Premier Foods will still face after this ”disaster departure,” in particular weak customer relationships.

Markets reacted immediately in both cases. Share prices stayed stable and even improved slightly following the announcement from Novartis. Analysts, however, viewed Clarke’s departure as negative and share prices immediately dropped more than 10%.

Even though the exact timing of Vasella’s departure may have been a surprise to board members, the handling of the news was exemplary and may have contributed to the lack of shock waves for the company. Clarke’s departure, on the other hand, was described as abrupt, as seen in another article that stated that the company’s leader ”abruptly quit midway through its turnaround plan.”

That terminology leaves less to the imagination than another common phrase describing departing leaders who expressed their wish to pursue other opportunities.

Is your company prepared to handle high-level departures gracefully? Do you have an effective communications plan on the shelf that has been stress tested for a broad range of scenarios? How can you ensure disaster-proof departures? Ask, assess then act. We’re here to help!

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