Strong argument for a line of succession

This was one of those rare press days when potential Leader columns were in abundance. I already had this column written several times before news events repeatedly forced me to start again. Subsequently I’m writing this one very much on the fly.

I received a call at an ungodly hour this morning from Stuart Smith, my predecessor as editor of Marketing Week and still our regular columnist and blogger.

Stuart was calling from his holiday abroad to tell me that he had it from a well-placed source that Unilever and its CMO Simon Clift had parted ways. A big shock. Clift joined Unilever as a management trainee in 1982 and has been at Unilever since. His most recent role has been at the very heart of the company’s drive to modernise and transform its entire marketing operation. Described by colleagues as “inspirational” and “charismatic”, he is also a marketer that relies a great deal on instinct. It was a young Clift who was behind Unilever’s decision to stray from the company’s roster of agencies and appoint the then unproven agency BBH to handle the Lynx business, with sensational results.

My early morning conversation with Stuart ended with him informing me that he had broken the story on his own Marketing Week blog before calling me.

“Unilever and Vodafone’s succession planning will be tested in the weeks to come and I hope they fare better than ITV and M&S did recently”

I subsequently spoke to Clift a couple of times today. The first time he was forced to deny the rumours as he had barely told anyone at Unilever of his impending departure (he plans to “retire” from the company and go and live in Brazil with his foster son and grandson). He later called me back to confirm that Marketing Week “bumped” the communication process forward somewhat. You can read Clift’s latest column for us in the 25 February issue and, I must say, I’m looking forward to reading what he has to say.

Then, just before deadline we received word that David Wheldon is leaving Vodafone after six years as global brand director. Profiled by this magazine last June, Wheldon is another one of the world’s top marketers, leaving a massive hole in one of our most distinctive brands.

Unilever and Vodafone’s succession planning will be tested in the weeks to come and I hope they fare better than ITV and Marks & Spencer did recently. In both cases, especially the latter, a seeming lack of suitable candidates cost shareholders a massive amount of money in order to get their man – Adam Crozier and Marc Bolland respectively. If similar problems in replacing two giants of marketing occur at Unilever and Vodafone, UK plc might well do well to look at the example set by a new academy aimed at closing the skill gap and turning bright young things today into the business leaders of tomorrow. More on The Marketing Academy, run by the Marketing Hall of Legends UK, next week. Suffice it to say that last week’s soft launch of this new charitable foundation was attended by some of the most powerful marketers in Europe, all of whom have pledged their time and resources as mentors and coaches, to ensure its success. But that’s for next week.

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