NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigned today after NPR executive Ron Schiller (no relation to Ms. Schiller) was "stung" by a hidden camera, revealing his biases against the Tea Party. The incident came on the heels of a controversial firing of Juan Williams in 2010.
The same morning, NPR issued a press release, which read, in part:
"According to a CEO succession plan adopted by the Board in 2009, Joyce Slocum, SVP of Legal Affairs and General Counsel, has been appointed to the position of Interim CEO. The Board will immediately establish an Executive Transition Committee that will develop a timeframe and process for the recruitment and selection of new leadership."
That's fast. And guess why they were able to be so nimble? They adopted a succession plan that could be enacted at a moment's notice. This was that moment. How many boards tell themselves, "We really need to work on our succession plan", only to have the day-to-day exigencies of the organization take precedence over something that feels theoretical and nearly impossible-the sudden departure of the CEO.
If you haven't read the book "The Black Swan" (no relation to the Natalie Portman movie), I encourage you to do so. Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb tells us that the truly important events, what he calls "Black Swans," are rare and unpredictable. And while you can't plan for many of these unpredictable events, this is one Black Swan you CAN plan for: you can create a succession plan. Last month I wrote about Steve Jobs' illness and the Apple board's refusal to reveal its succession plan to their shareholders. Apple has said they have a plan but will not disclose it.
You don't have to disclose your plan. But you do have to have one. The NPR board got it right; they were ready.
Is your board?