David Sable Shares: Why Succession Planning is Vital to Securing Your Company’s Future—and Your Professional Legacy

  • By digitaldiary
  • in ,
  • on August 23, 2021

As originally published by David Sable on Linkedin. Subscribe to the newsletter!

Your success as a leader is not only defined by your current actions but is engraved in your legacy. And to me, legacy means the viability and longevity of what you’ve left behind, the ability of the next generation to take the company to new places, to build on what you created and make it even greater—all of which begins with Succession Planning. Your lasting value will be measured not only by what you’ve done today, but by your succession.

Succession planning, in any public company, is a board sized and agonized on issue. But in my view, succession planning, in any business or enterprise no matter the size, is critical. In fact, I’d argue, that the basic premise of succession planning is critical for all relationships—families included (a discussion for another time).

Succession Planning pretty much aims to address the issue of, “what happens if you, our leader, gets hit by a bus?” Not sure that’s necessarily how the issue is framed in Harvard MBA classes, but it does get to the point quickly. Too often the principals involved don’t address or want to address that thorny question, and when the need arises, when the bus hits so to say, many institutions are caught flat footed having to scramble with interim leadership and the chaos that inevitably ensues from such unpreparedness.

I have seen many boards struggle with the issue, reluctant to confront CEOs, and I have seen senior managers ignore requests for such planning, even though their companies were nowhere near prepared to contend with a sudden leadership change.

Worse yet, I have seen instances where succession planning becomes a way for individual executives to ward off internal competition, identifying multiple potential contenders and playing them off each other to keep them focused on each other and not on the current leadership.

The truth is that all of us are replaceable. Some more readily than others, true, but in the end, the engines keep rolling, the work keeps flowing, and hopefully, the enterprise keeps growing. If it doesn’t, my thesis is not that you were the only one who could make it work, but rather, you didn’t do your job, part of which is building a company capable of moving forward and meeting new challenges without you.

Harsh? Not at all! The business graveyards and trash heaps are full of such companies and enterprises. That is, failed or jury out companies that were linked to one person who controlled it in ways that allowed no one else in (see: WeWork), just as the list of successful, ongoing businesses is equally full of the opposite (see: VMLY&R).

For those of you who do not know, VMLY&R is the company I turned over to my successor, John Cook, and I am extremely proud of its continued growth, new ground broken and incredible achievements since I left. I celebrate VMLY&R’s success everyday as both its former CEO and as a shareholder of WPP in general.

So, what are the key lessons in planning for the future of your company as relates to leadership?

  • Succession Planning should begin with your first job, even if it’s entry level. Get used to thinking about how you move on by thinking about who takes your place. A rising tide lifts all ships, and if you leave your job, move on and up, and the next person tanks because you haven’t paved the way for them to succeed, you are a failure—not a hero who triumphed while others could not.
  • Think about the skills you lack, the expertise you don’t have, or sensibilities that you haven’t developed that may be useful in the future. Choose your successor with those in mind and make sure they have at least one of them already, while helping to train them/get them ready for the rest.
  • Include your identified successor in your future thinking. Get their view and buy in. Secure the foundation of your vision for the future by allowing room for theirs.
  • Actively think about how you keep your successor or replacement engaged and motivated. Salary and bonus help. So does inclusion.
  • If they turn out not to be right, and you feel you chose wrong, part ways quickly and identify a new person. Don’t let them linger.
  • Never appoint two people to replace you with shared accountability. You aren’t so important/irreplaceable that it will take two people to do the job you did as one. It’s confusing and can create a power struggle.
  • Own your choice and make sure others do, too. No damning with faint praise. Stand behind them and make sure the rest of the team does as well.
  • Make it a thoughtful, gradual, and well-communicated plan to achieve a no-drama transition.
  • Remember that if your company can’t be great without you, it’s not a great company at all.

When you do finally pull the trigger and put the wheels in motion to leave, get out of the way. It is the hardest part of the process, and it’s where so many fail. But if you’ve done your job right, your replacement will take the company to new places, just as you once did. No one needs two of anything, and no one needs anyone looking over their shoulder or second guessing their plans. Remain a cheerleader—but from the sidelines, not the center field.

My final thought on the matter is an admonition to both planner and successor: if you have both done your jobs well and are aligned on the future, maintain respect for each other and watch the company thrive.

To that end, I share the following thought from Nicholas Copernicus…listen:

“Every light has its shadow, and every shadow hath a succeeding morning.”

 Your light is powerful, as will be theirs. Remember that.

Leave a Reply

PUBLISHED BY digitaldiary

View all posts by digitaldiary

Related Posts


Adam Myers, SVP and Chief Clinical Transformation Officer (CCTO) for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) Keynotes our Healthcare Providers and Payers Transformation Assembly

The Millennium Alliance is proud to announce Adam Myers will help start the 2022 season off strong with a keynote address at our upcoming Healthcare Providers and Payers Transformation Assembly on April 19-20. Myers is currently the SVP and Chief Clinical Transformation Officer (CCTO) for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), driving clinical transformation […]

#MillenniumLive , Healthcare , Interview , Podcast

#MillenniumLive on Patient Care Coordination with WellSky

#MillenniumLive welcomes Andy Eilert, President of Emerging Markets at WellSky. Andy joins us to chat about investment and growth in the healthcare payer space, care coordination at home, and WellSky’s industry-leading technology that’s enabling caregivers across the continuum. Watch the video interview below, or listen on Spotify, Apple, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or SoundCloud. About WellSky WellSky is a technology […]

CIO , Data

Jason Gislason, Chief Digital Officer at Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, Keynotes Our First Assembly of 2022!

The Millennium Alliance is proud to announce Jason Gislason will help start the 2022 season off strong with a keynote address at our upcoming Digital Enterprise CIO & Data Transformation Assembly on February 8-9, 2022. Gislason, currently the Chief Digital Officer at Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, has dedicated over two decades to transforming the Chemicals and […]

CIO , CISO , CMO , Data , Financial Services , Healthcare , Millennium Staff , Retail

Co-Founder of The Millennium Alliance Joins Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO)

NEW YORK – January 20, 2022 – The Millennium Alliance, an invitation-only organization for Senior-Level Executives and Business Transformers, has had the privilege over the past eight years of collaborating with many of the most accomplished C-Suite executives from across the globe. Millennium is excited to announce that its Co-Founder Alex Sobol is one of the newest […]

Lovin’ Digital Diary?

Premium content to our readers interested in all things business.

Check Us Out!

Millennium Membership offers Fortune 1000 C-Level executives, leading public sector/government officials, and thought leaders across a variety of disciplines unique and exclusive opportunities to meet their peers, understand industry developments, and receive introductions to new technology and service advancements to help grow their career and overall company value.

About Millenium Alliance Next

About Digital Diary

Created to provide premium content to our readers interested in all things business.

Launched in 2017, Digital Diary was created to provide premium content to our readers interested in all things business. With our blogs catered to deliver the top news stories, trends, and interviews from across all industries.

Read all story Next

Millennium Alliance Membership

Learn More Next

What does it mean to be a Millennium Member? In the midst of the constant disruption across all industries, our members are given the tools they need to digitally transform their organizations and become the best leaders they can be. Millennium Members are provided the exclusive opportunity to attend our 40+ intimate in person and virtual Assemblies, take part in industry-leading Executive Education sessions conducted by the nation’s leading academic institutions, business leaders, and technology providers and receive industry leading content through our Digital Diary Platform as well as the rapidly growing #MillenniumLive Podcast Series.