Great CEOs make themselves redundant

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May 1st, 2009 Shyamal Majumdar

There are enough management books on the qualities that great leaders should have. But the one that I agree with the most is that they also know how to make themselves redundant at the right time.  K V Kamath, who stepped down as the MD & CEO of ICICI Bank to take over as non-executive chairman, set that ball in motion almost a year back. He started withdrawing  himself  from the day-to-day management of the bank — just to give that much breathing space to his successor.
Redundant may be a strong word to use — for,  great leaders can’t make themselves totally redundant even if they want to.  But one of the biggest compliments Mr Kamath has received is from his successor Ms Chanda Kochhar, whom he had recruited as a management trainee. Ms Kochhar said that while Mr Kamath was an institution by himself, she had no intention of stepping into his large shoes. “I am going to get into my own shoes. What is important is that I walk in a stable manner in my own shoes,” she said. Her boss would be proud of that self-confidence. 
One of Mr Kamath’s biggest achievements has been to ensure a smooth succession plan for the country’s second largest bank. Result: even though two  high-profile executives left, the bank was able to name their successors from within its ranks almost immediately. The task was complicated as the ICICI group has too many companies under its fold. 
 Kamath knows his larger-than-life image has the potential to overshadow his successor, so he says he would follow the example set by N Vaghul who had brought him to ICICI Bank. After taking over as the non-executive chairman of ICICI Bank – a post he held for 15 years – Vaghul have never met clients for any business meetings and would always direct them to meet Mr Kamath instead.  That’s the practice Mr Kamath would follow too.
This is important as many great leaders have fallen by the wayside just because they didn’t know when to let go. Take HP’s Carly Fiorina, for example. When she took the helm of HP in 1999, the company held the 10th spot on Fortune’s annual survey of top corporate cultures. After that, HP started slipping down the list every year with the worst setback coming in 2004 when it failed to make the cut at all. A consultant appointed by the company to find out what went wrong came up with a one-line answer: “Fear loves this place.”
Something must have gone horribly wrong for  a company that was once celebrated for the “HP way” – creating an open workspace broken up by small cubicles to encourage communication between workers, and pioneering the concept of profit sharing.
The reason,  say experts, was that Ms Fiorina tried to make it too much of a one-woman show.
The self-confidence that helped take her to the top of the corporate world also got in the way of her taking advice and suggestions. As a result, when she was asked to go, Ms Fiorina left behind a weak senior management and no obvious internal successor.

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One Response to “Great CEOs make themselves redundant”

  1. Rahul Says:

    ICICI bank has been in the forefront of private banks in India. Mr KV Kamath set an example on how good leader leads the company. i agree that he has proven greater by stepping aside for a worthy successor. He is the greatest banking icon of today.


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