In July 2012, VWR International announced that President and CEO John Ballbach and VWR’s board of directors “agreed on his departure” from VWR. The laboratory supplies distributor also announced the start of an internal and external search for his successor and appointed Manuel Brocke-Benz, SVP and managing director of Europe, interim CEO.
More than four months later, despite VWR’s “extensive” but apparently unsuccessful search for Ballbach’s replacement, interim CEO Brocke-Benz was named permanently to the position.
While this may seem like a suitable solution to VWR’s succession problems, it creates yet another challenge. Brocke-Benz’s former position as SVP and managing director of Europe is now unfilled, and once again, VWR has announced a search for a replacement. The vacancy comes in the midst of VWR’s recent European acquisitions of Labonord SAS, Switch BVBA and Lab3 Limited in November and December.
VWR’s predicament demonstrates just how important succession planning is, especially when changes aren’t anticipated.
A more complete strategic planning process might have avoided the problem. According to author Brent Grover in The Little Black Book of Strategic Planning for Distributors, “Succession planning is the natural next step in strategic planning.” The departure of owners and managers is inevitable for every business and often occurs much sooner than expected.
Ironically, strategic planning’s role as a catalyst for succession planning may be the very reason many company leaders tend to avoid it. But Brent says if leaders can broach this sometimes difficult subject early on, it can help make the inevitable transition as seamless as possible for the next generation of owners and managers.