Apple not only company that needs CEO succession plan

New SEC rules broaden legal definition of risk, making disclosure to shareholders critical

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There's been a lot of talk this week about how well Apple is prepared for the possibility that chief executive Steve Jobs, now out on an indefinite medical leave, may be unable to resume his full-time duties as CEO.

I wrote about this Monday, when Jobs notified Apple employees that COO Tim Cook would be handling day-to-day responsibilities for him at Apple. But even before then, in a bit of accidental prescience, I wrote on Jan. 10 that the company was recommending to shareholders that they reject a proposal by a pension fund owning Apple shares to adopt and disclose a CEO succession policy.

(Also see: Apple don't need no stinking CEO succession plan)

Apple's argument is that, if passed, the proposal by the Central Laborers' Pension Fund to require the company to develop a CEO succession plan -- and report on it to shareholders each year -- would undermine Apple's efforts to recruit and retain executives. The reasoning here is that by identifying potential successors, Apple faces the danger of having its designated "best executives" recruited away, while those Apple executives not on a short list of possible successors would take that as a cue to continue their careers elsewhere.

Personally, I don't think Apple's stance makes sense. If an executive is on a short list of potential CEOs, you can be rest assured that that person already is well-known to competitors, not to mention every headhunter in Silicon Valley. Further, if another company does try to recruit a "short-list" executive, Apple presumably would have an opportunity to retain that executive by making a counter-offer. And if Apple has an executive who doesn't make the CEO short list, well, does the company really want to string that person along with the false hope that someday he or she will occupy the corner office?

Today over at Fortune, careers columnist Anne Fisher has an excellent piece explaining why it is imperative not solely for Apple, but for all public companies, to develop a CEO succession plan.

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