Power games around a poorly managed succession: the good leaves of Dominique Alain Freymond’s next book


The board of this large SME in the agri-food sector is in the midst of a crisis. Two clans formed, divided on the method and the choice of the boss’s successor. As the weeks go by, the situation becomes more and more tense. Power relations are complex. Who will swing the vote?


Pierre-Alain is a committed and charismatic man. Benevolently, he has successfully run the company for years. It is difficult to resist him because he masters all aspects of production, knows the challenges of the profession well and has an important network of contacts. Perhaps his strong personality did not allow a possible internal candidate to emerge.

The board, made up of seven members, is made up of representatives of its shareholders and two independent directors, Reto, a financial specialist, and Odile, an expert in environmental issues. At the last general meeting, it was naturally Daniel, representative of the majority shareholder (45%) who was elected. Matthias, representative of a minority shareholder, would have liked to take on this responsibility, but he lacks experience and character. However, to respect a form of balance between the shareholders, the board appointed him vice-chairman.

Read also: The art of avoiding conflicts of interest at the top of companies

It is time to prepare the succession of Pierre-Alain. Thanks to Odile’s connections, a headhunter receives the mandate to launch the search for candidates. The board does not have time to write a job profile, but an interview with Pierre-Alain helps to clarify things. A first list with four candidates is submitted to the council. One of them seems to be favored by Daniel and Pierre-Alain because his profile makes it possible to envisage good continuity of management. Another, more exotic, especially appeals to Odile and the headhunter, who do the forcing. The gait seems badly fitted. During an extra-mural session, the process is re-discussed but in the informal setting of the breakfast… An external specialist comes to present a professional approach to recruiting a general manager. He is hardly heard, rejected by some who consider as proof of too great a connivance with the president the fact that he is familiar with him…

Two groups form. The president and two administrators, including Reto, favor one candidate while Odile and two colleagues take a stand for the other. Matthias remains reserved, a little overwhelmed by events. Daniel tries to push the case forward without much success. Meetings in small groups are organized discreetly. And suddenly, the balance of power shifts. Perhaps jealous of the president and his good relationship with Pierre-Alain, Matthias falls into the camp of the opponents. The latter, with this new support, force the decision in favor of their candidate.

Officially, the latter is chosen unanimously! Pierre-Alain, deeply disappointed by this choice which he finds inappropriate, leaves his post a few months later. Reto, exhausted by these disputes, tenders his resignation.

The new director takes office. Having presumably learned the details of the process for his appointment, he quickly reports that he cannot work with the chairman of the board. The settling of accounts ends at the next general meeting: Daniel is not re-elected.

Some food for thought

Succession management, especially for a charismatic boss who has been in office for decades, must be prepared well in advance. The process begins with the drafting of a profile of the person sought which must be adopted by the council. The choice of headhunter is also crucial. Finally, the establishment of a nomination committee makes it possible to manage all the procedures with professionalism and to retain quality candidates to propose to the Board. The succession management process got off to a bad start and the decision was taken by a vote after a conflict of personalities. Under these conditions, the outcome seemed almost certain. The director chosen remained in office for only eight months. Finally, a dedicated executive of the company, who acted as interim director for ten months, will be confirmed as general manager. Partially known to shareholders, this conflict has adversely affected the smooth running of the company, its reputation and its results.

Also read: How do you create the “best board in the world”?

Leave a Comment