RGA Creates a standard for CEO Succession
Sometimes, future planning in an organization is thought through clearly and executed crisply. Too often, however, it is left to chance and happenstance.
The outcome of a succession planning process that is poorly designed or executed can be devastating to an organization and its culture.
In 2011, the board of directors for Reinsurance Group of America Inc. (RGA) received a gracious gift from Greig Woodring, its chief executive officer. Woodring gave them the gift of time: he privately told them he would be retiring in five years, so the trustees had some time and space as they helped to craft a succession plan with Gay Burns, RGA’s chief human resources officer.
CEO succession planning is one of a board’s top priorities. Woodring’s heads-up gave RGA time to do it right. And while not every company has the cushion of time that RGA enjoyed, the company’s process stands as a sterling example of howto succeed in this crucial endeavor.
One of the first items on the agenda was for RGA to realize that continuity was important for the entire organization, not just the CEO role, especially in light of having several top executives all approaching retirement around the same time.
“We brought our senior leaders together to talk about the succession planning that needed to happen two to three layers below them,” says Burns. “We needed to make sure we had the right skills and capabilities in those positions. If we didn’t, we knew we needed to either develop people internally orbring them in from the outside.
“One benefit that RGA has that many companies don’t is that we’ve been growing quite significantly. Growth offers opportunities to bring in outside talent who may bring different capabilities than what you possess internally.”
The other distinction that RGA brought to succession planning was that Woodring was very much engaged in the process. At times, a company’s succession process can become awkward; neither the board nor the CEO is always adept at ensuring a graceful exit.