Just before the start of the NBA season, the league’s commissioner announced that he would be stepping down. After three decades at the helm of a professional basketball association that went from having its playoff games aired on tape delay in the early 1980s to signing a $7.4 billion television rights deal in 2007, David Stern will retire on February 1, 2014.
Stern picked this date for two reasons. The first is personal: it is, to the day, the 30th anniversary of when he became commissioner. The other factor is for the good of the league: it will give him plenty of time to ensure that Adam Silver, the NBA’s board-approved commissioner-in-waiting, can learn all the ins and outs of the job.
Silver started working for the league in 1992, becoming deputy commissioner in 2006, and is, according to Stern, “a world-class business executive who has influenced so many areas of our business during his tenure.”
But even though he has long been groomed for the position, there is no guarantee that Silver will be a success once he takes over. If he fails, however, it will not be because the NBA failed to plan.
Unfortunately, this kind of deliberate succession planning is not the norm. A 2011 PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that 59% of executives believe their board should spend more time on succession planning while 36% of directors are not satisfied with their company’s CEO succession planning.
This is not just a concern for top executives either. An October survey of 1,400 chief information officers revealed that 79% have not identified a successor who would take over in the event they unexpectedly have to cease working.
The public sector is not any better prepared. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has estimated that half of the more than 7,500 senior federal executives will retire by 2015. But a formal replacement strategy is lagging, according to a Booz Allen Hamilton study last year, due to a lack of time, inadequate funding, limited ability to assess/select candidates and the difficulty of workforce forecasting. n