10 years ago today the Labour party in Scotland was trying to find a new leader. Today, they are in the same boat. Seemingly, they have learned a thing in the past 10 years.
THE hunt is on for a successor to the late First Minister Donald Dewar and I suspect it will become quite ugly.
Who will step forward to try on the shoes of a legend? They were barely cold when fellow politicians started their internal lobbying for the coveted post. I understand Enterprise Minister Henry McLeish is currently viewed as favourite for the post. That Finance Minister Jack McConnell is also a likely candidate and that Health Minister Susan Deacon may just throw her hat in the ring too. I don’t think any of them have really got what it takes, but that’s just a personal opinion.
The point is, it’s all rather hurried and undignified, isn’t it? It’s all about greedy ambition, and doing the dirty deed in the 28 days allowed by the Scotland Act to choose a replacement, rather than quickly and professionally promoting someone who has already been carefully groomed for the role.
There is too much talk about the process, rather than the people. The fact that the Labour Party’s mechanism means that an electoral college must decide their Scottish leader, who will then be put forward as First Minister. That achieving this in 28 days will be challenging, to say the least. That Labour may have to short-circuit the process and nominate a successor who would be elected unopposed at a special conference.
It’s all process, and mechanisms, and rules when it should be about working together to find the right person for the role, someone who commands respect, has solid leadership skills, and has a true passion for Scotland and the future of her people.
But political parties have always had a seemingly reckless attitude towards succession planning and they don’t seem able to learn from their mistakes.
It was the same when John Smith died in 1994 and the hunt for a successor began. And how on earth did John Major succeed Margaret Thatcher? The subsequent leadership succession further beggars belief.
Politics should take a leaf from the business book, where succession planning is a long-term strategic process handled at the very highest level in an organisation.
Take GE’s Jack Welch (personally, I’d love to. I have to confess a fascination with Welch. Of the world’s best businessmen, he’s the one on whose shoulder I would most like to watch and learn).
Anyway, back in 1980 when he emerged as the surprise winner in the contest to run General Electric, it was after a seven-year elimination process.
The new CEO was selected from dozens of managers, their work records were scrutinised and their colleagues quizzed to find out what they thought about them. Six candidates were chosen for the next part in the process where they were put through a new round of gruelling tests. The last three men were made vice-chairmen and given two years to prove themselves.
Finally, at the end of that assessment period, they were each asked to judge how they had performed and submit a paper to the Board. Welch, then 45, was supremely self-confident and his list of qualities was seriously impressive. He got the gig.
Now, 20 years after he made it to the top, Welch is reaching the end of another rigorous years-long elimination process to find his own successor. Welch, who will be 65 in November, retires next April and American analysts expect an announcement about the new CEO in the next few weeks.
Choosing the right successor may be the most important decision of Welch’s business life. He knows that the future success of GE depends almost entirely on finding the right man for the job.
He has seen the mistakes made by other corporations: Coca-Cola’s Doug Ivester spent just 25 months in the role before being ousted; Durk Jager was kicked out of Procter & Gamble after 17 months; and our own British Airways moved Bob Ayling out after he failed to fill the shoes of Lord Marshall.
Welch’s successor will have to show outstanding leadership qualities and impressive, wide-ranging business management skills (GE possibly has the world’s most complex business portfolio).
But equally importantly, the new CEO will be expected to start developing his own successor from the minute he sits at the head of the Boardroom table.
Now there’s a challenge for the new First Minister.