Mentoring and teaching the next generation of leaders should be a simple progression if you’ve started the process early and have a plan in place. That is where succession planning comes in.
By Sandy Smith
A decade or so ago, Gary LaGrange was sitting in a long-term strategic planning session, looking around the room of senior managers and assistant senior managers.
“I began to ponder: How long will these people be here and who will be around to handle the ideas that we’re generating?” said LaGrange, recently retired CEO of the Port of New Orleans in Louisiana. “I realized that we needed to start doing something.”
That bit of foresight has paid off. LaGrange estimates that about one-third of the port employees have left in the last few years due to retirement. An internship program helped, drawing in younger workers, allowing those in middle positions to move into more senior roles.
But when a long-time chief operating officer retired, LaGrange started to think about filling the role with someone who might one day succeed him. “I wanted … somebody qualified who might want to transition from number two to number one,” said LaGrange, who hasn’t stepped away from ports completely, serving as executive director of the Ports Association of Louisiana and as a consultant for companies including Fagiloi, a heavy lift specialist.
Brandy Christian was recruited from the Port of San Diego as COO. But it wasn’t until she’d been on the job a few months that LaGrange mentioned that maybe she should think about succeeding him. Christian had said in the interviewing process that she saw herself one day as a CEO. “She said, ‘Give me another year or two,’” LaGrange recalled.
While that was a casual conversation, it did start the ball rolling. When LaGrange announced his intention to retire in early 2016, the commission began negotiating with Christian to take the CEO job. In January 2017 – after two years in New Orleans – Christian was named president and CEO.
The year-long transition proved a luxury that ports can’t always capitalize on.
Succession planning, however, can go a long way in ensuring that key leadership roles can be filled, even if only as an interim when an abrupt change occurs.