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Our Blog: The Podium
Note: This is the finale in our three-part series on succession communications.
As you’ve no doubt noticed from our previous posts on communicating CEO and CFO transitions, there’s no such thing as a “standard” executive announcement. And messaging board-level succession carries additional nuances you’ll need to consider as you frame a board change in the best position for long-term success with the investment community.
To assist in that effort, here are five points to guide you in announcing a change on your board.
1. Change is good. Change carries inherent uncertainty, and investors typically frown on that. However, institutional shareholders, and shareholder activists in particular, have emphasized board refreshment in recent years as a means of improving corporategovernance. Proxy advisers Glass Lewis and ISS also view it favorably. The theory here is that more frequent board turnover opens a company to new thinking and the best possible strategic benefits in the long run. Put another way, your board either can be stagnant or growing. Approach your announcement from a confident perspective, because chances are your shareholders will welcome the addition of new viewpoints.
Note: This is the second in our three-part series on succession communications.
A new CEO is the highest-profile personnel announcement a company can make, but a new CFO isn’t far behind. As with any executive transition, the reasons can vary widely – from termination to mutual separation to a legitimate retirement. Regardless of the rationale, however, you’ll need to negotiate a different set of questions when communicating a CFO transition.
Whether it’s the longtime CEO’s retirement or the recent hire’s sudden exit, communicating the transition of the top executive is one of the most critical messaging tasks a company can undertake. So let’s discuss them both: the transitions that are well-planned, thoughtful and strategic, and those that are likely to catch investors by surprise. Here are three things to remember before your company changes CEOs.
Whenever I speak about properly communicating a CEO transition, I talk about the importance of having a plan. But not all companies undergoing a management change have the advantage of foresight. So let’s discuss them both: the transitions that are well-planned, thoughtful and strategic, and those that must be managed on the fly. Here are three things to remember before your company changes CEOs, no matter the reason.
By Maureen Wolff, President and Partner
When The Men’s Wearhouse dismissed George Zimmer, the company’s high-profile pitchman and executive chairman, this summer, observers were left wondering what had caused the split. The company announced it had parted ways with Zimmer, who founded The Men’s Wearhouse in 1973, on June 19, five hours before its annual stockholders meeting was scheduled to take place. It provided an extensive explanation from the board of directors via press release – six days later. In the interim, and for several days thereafter, fans of Zimmer and his iconic commercial appearances took to social media with cries of “foul.” Zimmer himself commented on his ouster through a number of media channels.
Zimmer’s split must have been particularly damaging from a communications and branding perspective. After all, it is difficult to even think of the men’s retailer without hearing Zimmer and his classic phrase, “You’re gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it.” But the travails of communicating succession aren’t limited to high-profile executives. In the past several weeks, we have seen changes or controversy at the top of a number of public companies, including J.C. Penney, Microsoft, Office Depot, Royal KPN and Vivendi.
Finding the next CEO or chairman is one issue. Communicating to investors that the board of directors has a sound plan for succession is quite another entirely. This means the challenge is two-fold: overcoming the stigma associated with internal succession discussions while a CEO – especially a successful one or a company founder – is still in place; and crafting a message that will ultimately calm investor fears about uncertainty caused by a pending transition.