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HBR CASE STUDY

Indispensable

DANIEL VASCONCELLOS

Edward Bennett is a
talented CEO with a lot
on his plate. But he’s not
getting any younger, and
his board can’t get him
engaged in succession
planning.

T

om Calloway, nonexecutive chairman of Astar Enterprises, put the phone back in its cradle as gently as he
could, given the circumstances. He had
just finished yet another difficult and unsatisfactory conversation with Edward Bennett, Astar’s CEO, about succession
planning. Calloway wheeled his chair
around and looked out over the stunning
view of Boston Harbor. His 25th-floor office at Pedigree Investment Partners was smaller than the one he’d had at Puritan
Bancorp before retiring as CEO four
years ago, but he’d brought his impressive mahogany desk with him, and the table in the corner displayed a career’s
worth of “tombstones”from major deals
he’d done during his career at Puritan.
Calloway had joined the board of
Astar, a highly profitable consumer

products company, eight years ago and
had taken over as chairman shortly after
his retirement from Puritan. He enjoyed
a strong working relationship with Bennett. Although they didn’t always see eye to eye, they had always been able to
work out their differences. Regarding
Astar’s strategy and financial matters,
Bennett was invariably open and transparent. The CEO held the reins a little tighter on management and organizational issues, but as he continued to deliver results, the board was inclined
to let Bennett follow his instincts. The
topic of succession planning, though,
was another matter.
“What does he think he is, immortal?”
Calloway thought to himself. After 18
months and several conversations, Bennett had grudgingly agreed to prepare

HBR’s cases, which are fictional, present common managerial dilemmas and offer concrete solutions from experts.
september 2006

37

YEL MAG CYAN BLACK

by John Beeson

H B R C A S E S T U D Y • Indispensable

a presentation and lead a discussion on
succession planning at the upcoming
board meeting. But in today’s conversation, like several that had preceded it, the CEO had still been reluctant, if not
downright resistant to the whole idea.
Until now, Bennett had strongly (and
effectively) argued that the board should
be focusing on more immediate priorities. Astar had recently initiated a major global expansion, and as the public face
of the company and a dynamic speaker,
Bennett had been centrally involved in
the road shows required to secure equity
funding from the investment banks. The
effort had been successful, the company
had now reached the level of funding required to support the expansion, and yet Bennett continued to maintain that
his attention was better focused on implementing the new strategy than on succession planning.
It was true, Calloway thought, that this
was a critical moment for Astar. It was
just beginning to draw the attention of
the industry’s two dominant multinational players, and the company had taken on significant financial commitments. Several board members had suggested they begin succession-planning discussions among themselves if Bennett continued to beg off. However, Calloway understood that Bennett knew more about Astar and its employees

than anyone else, and he still hoped to
entice the CEO to participate.
Calloway’s longtime assistant interrupted his thoughts by knocking softly at the door to alert him to a scheduled
conference call on another matter. As
he turned, she saw him nervously spinning the embossed “brass rat” on his MIT class ring round and round his finger. Normally, Calloway was composed in virtually any situation, but his assistant knew from their years of working together that something was deeply

troubling him.
John Beeson (jbeeson100@aol.com) is the
principal of Beeson Consulting, Incorporated, a firm specializing in succession planning, executive development, and organization design. He is based in Kansas City,...
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