How to Groom a Successor...and How to Be Groomed

Succession planning requires an eye for talent and the ability to train others in leadership skills

David Burrill, Retiring Head of Group Security, British American Tobacco

When companies consistently bring people into the top slot from the outside, it has a huge potential for negative impact on the people who are already in the company. You're saying, nobody in this company is good enough to do that job. And that may be currently true. But hiring from without also says a great deal about the ability of your company to search for people, to recruit them, to develop them and give them a legitimate career path.

One level below me are four regional security managers and the global information security manager, who is a PhD. Any of them could be a CSO. Below that level, in middle management, there are certain people whom we've already identified as potential CSOs. We have annual career development meetings, and we don't just look at performance but also at potential. If I were a middle manager who was a potential CSO, I would be told that I was a "lister." A lister is a person who has identified potential to go at least two [salary] grades higher than the one they're in. It's a BAT [British American Tobacco] term that we use to identify people in whom we need to put a special investment.

What I don't want to have in this company is a situation where we've only got one choice. One choice really decides itself, doesn't it? One choice means that within the companybearing in mind that our CSO will always be selected from the companythere is no competition. Human beings work at their best when they're in a competitive environment. I want the potential CSOs to know that they are in healthy competition.

I'm always looking for talent. I have what you might call a little black book, where I have notes on people I have met around the world who look like the sort of material we want to bring into this company. In Nick Proctor's case, I met him around 1996, when he was executive director of the Overseas Security Advisory Council at the U.S. State Department. I got to know him pretty well and very quickly realized that he was a man of significant talent, and the sort of guy we would like in this company. But I didn't have a vacancy.

Then an opportunity came up. In 2001, we made him regional security manager for the America-Pacific, which used to be based in Louisville, Ky. Then we decided we needed to give him broader experience. Since the first of January this year, Nick has been regional security manager for Europe. He's been having to put up with all us strange Europeans. This was just to confirm that in another environment Nick would display those characteristics we know we have to have in the top position. Nick came into Europe and performed exactly as we expected.

"When companies consistently bring people into the top slot from the outside, it has a huge potential for negative impact on the people who are already in the company."

- David Burrill

BAT has a career development selection process. A director from the board, a senior executive from human resources and I made Nick our "provisional choice." We passed on to the board his full career outline. Then they have to say whether they agree or not. That decision was made in August, and the announcement of Nick's appointment was made on Sept. 1.

Nick knew that he wasn't the sole runner. He has come through that competitive environment, and he's reached the top slot. I personally let the others in my top team know before the formal announcement went out. The guys who didn't get it this time might get it the next time. I suspect Nick might be in the job five years. I don't know.

As for the transition? Nick is already located here in London. We discuss things together a lot. Effectively we have four months of him doing his job, and me doing my job. But transitioning is not a huge challenge. If it were, that would say something negative about the top-level structure we have in security. The things that I do are not mysterious to my top team. They know how this company works; they know how I work. The very presence of the top team is in itself a significant element of the transition process.

Retirement at BAT is at age 60. I was asked to extend three years past that age to complete the development of the security function into a truly mature business function. Like any organization, this organization needs new blood. Nick will take over on the first of January. I'll always be available if they should need to call me, but very quickly I think they'll call me less and less.

Nick Proctor, Incoming Head of Group Security, British American Tobacco

I met David Burrill in the fall of '96. I had just started the job as executive director of the Overseas Security Advisory Council. David telephoned me and asked me to speak at a conference in suburban Washington, D.C. We struck up a professional friendship from there. I worked with ISMA a lot, and David was on the board of directors with ISMA. We kept running into each other.

Probably midway through my OSAC assignment, I started to think about life after government service. Working with OSAC, I knew a lot of people in the private sector. I got a lot of advice. They said, once you reach 50, which is retirement age in the State Department, you should get into the private sector.

Sometime in 1998, early 1999, David had me for dinner here in London at the company and said, Nick, when you're ready to retire, I'd like to get you into our company. Of course I was flattered. When I did retire, David had an opening in the U.S. unit. I'll be candid. I'm a nonsmoker. I found the possibility of working for a tobacco companyI wasn't sure number one if I'd like it, and number two if they would welcome me. It is an embattled industry, and it is a disgusting habit. I weighed the pros and cons and found that British American Tobacco is a responsible company in a controversial industry. I started in February 2001. I was based in Louisville, Ky., for almost four years. I moved to London in January of this year.

We all knew David would be retiring at the end of 2005. The clearest signal to me that I might be the leading candidatealthough David didn't say this outrightwas my move to London. It's expensive for BAT to have an expat living here. There were moving expenses; they pay for my housing; there's a transportation allowance. It's nice. It's more expensive for the company, but they invest in talent.

I don't know what David was looking at. My array of contacts and maybe some personal skills I acquired while spending a quarter of a century in diplomacy (which turned my hair gray), were maybe appealing to him. I think what I brought to the table was a bit different than the other candidates. Not necessarily better, but different.

I'll be 56 in October, and my family is still in the States, in suburban Detroit. If I'm not traveling for a few weeks, my wife will come over to London and camp out for a while. I have a stepson who's in college. He's semiautonomous; the bigger issue is the dog. Shlepping the dog back and forth is an expense we don't want, and we don't know if the dog could survive it. Retirement age is 60 for BAT. I'm looking at doing this job for a little under four years. It's important for me to identify very quickly who might replace me.

On Jan. 4, I won't be coming to the sixth floor, I'll be coming to the fourth floor to David's old office. I'll probably sit there saying, what have I got myself into? I'm just a snot-nosed kid from Michigan. I think I'll feel a bit overwhelmed. Within the first few weeks, all of David's top teamwhich will be my top teamwill be coming in for David's retirement functions. During that, we'll sit down and have a strategy session. I don't claim to have all the great ideas in the world. I don't claim to always be right, and a lot of other people have some brilliant ideas that we ought to consider. I'll be conveying that and will be relying on them to help manage the function and march forward.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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