A considerable majority of the UK's senior managers are due to retire in the next three years, claims a new leadership report from the Hay Group this week. The report states that up to three-quarters of the country's senior executive managers will have collected the gold watch and donned their slippers by 2010. That means a pretty substantial upheaval in the higher echelons of UK plc is in the offing, and brings the perennial debate about succession planning back into sharp focus.
Laissez faire market capitalists say that succession planning was invented by the HR department as something to keep them busy, and that the best way of finding the next generation of leaders is to put the candidates in a sack and let them slug it out - metaphorically speaking, of course.
Those in favour of a more structured approach counter that such neo-Darwinism is out of place in the caring, sharing 21st century, and that the impact on public image and investors of such unseemly corporate fisticuffs can be profound and long-lasting.
Meanwhile the empirical evidence seems to suggest that they both have a point - or rather that there's a fair chance of being damned either way. The best-laid succession plans are often derailed by ego and ambition, while there is a reputational cost attached to more public jockeying. Just think of M&S a few years ago, or BP today.
As MT columnist Richard Reeves puts it, ‘Pre-selecting tomorrow's stars is a dodgy business, because circumstances and people change and it annoys the monkeys out of everyone else.' What to do instead? For Richard's suggestions