When Ursula Burns took the reins at Xerox Corp. in 2009, succeeding then CEO Anne Mulcahy, she became the first woman in Fortune 500 history to succeed another woman as CEO. She also became the first black women to lead a Fortune 500 company.
Former Xerox CHRO Pat Nazemetz shared the first informational tidbit during her compact 20-minute presentation on Xerox’ CEO-succession story during day two of the 2014 i4cp Conference in Scottsdale.
Of course, neither of these two points about the Mulcahy-Burns succession story is terribly surprising. The CEO position continues to be male-dominated at Fortune 500 companies. Hopefully, that will change someday; but for now, I suppose I’ll just tuck these two facts away in case I ever become a contestant on Jeopardy. (Don’t hold your breath.)
Nazemetz left Xerox in 2011 and went on to launch her own consulting firm – NAZ DEC LLC. Her LinkedIn profile notes that she held the top HR role at Xerox through four CEOs.
As far as Nazemetz is concerned, succession should be HR’s “core competency.” At the end of the day, she said, “it’s what HR needs to be good at.”
Nazemetz, who described the Mulcahy-Burns succession as the capstone of her HR career, went on to detail a few of the lessons she learned along the way, including:
- Don’t leave talent to chance. “We were very lucky at Xerox. We had two women leaders who didn’t leak out of our pipeline,” she said, adding that she realizes it’s not likely to happen ever again.
- Make time your ally and not your adversary. CEO succession should always be in play and the best boards are always thinking about it, she said. (Nazemetz noted that HR needs to be the choreographer of the process and transition, making sure that all of the pieces come together.
- Ensuring an effective transition takes every skill and capability HR leaders have available to them. “You need to be a trusted adviser,” she said. “You need to be a translator, communicator and mirror.” By mirror, she means HR needs to be able to hold up the mirror to both the CEO who’s leaving and the incoming CEO and let them know how the transition is impacting the organization.
Nazemetz told the audience that Xerox learned some tough and memorable lessons when it brought in an outsider to lead the organization. Recognizing its error, she said, the board eventually promoted Mulcahy, who led a dramatic transformation at the company. (Xerox, Nazemetz said, was flirting with bankruptcy at the time.)
As a result of her experiences with succession, Nazemetz said she embraced the goal of having three successors for every key position at Xerox.
Nazemetz’ talk was preceded by another 20-minute presentation on accelerated development at Shell Oil Co.
Delivered by Michael Killingsworth, vice president of learning and organizational effectiveness for Shell’s Upstream Americas business, the talk touched on a yet-to-be-publicized (yes, you’re hearing it here first) facility slated to go live in September that’s aimed at speeding the training and development of offshore workers.
According to Killingsworth, it’s a first-of-its-kind facility in the oil industry. Plans, he said, are to officially publicize the new center later this year.
Currently, Killingsworth said, it takes two years to prepare workers so they can do their jobs on these offshore platforms. But once Shell’s new facility opens at the Robert Training and Conference Center one hour north of New Orleans, the time it takes to ready these workers will be trimmed to just six months.
The initiative is known as BOOST (Basic Operations Offshore Skills Training) and will enable Shell to train workers on how to do their jobs at these offshore facilities without leaving land.
In effect, Killingsworth said, Shell will be using simulators to create an offshore platform onshore. (Sounds similar to the way astronauts are trained, right?)
“Once they’ve finished their six months,” he said, “[trainees will] have everything they need to receive certification, and all of the qualifications they’ll need to go out on the platform and begin to work.”
Trainees in the program will rotate between two weeks on the simulated platform and two weeks off. During the last month of the training, they will go through simulated incidents that they will have to react to.
Killingsworth didn’t share what the facility will cost Shell, but I have to think the global oil giant has performed a cost-reward analysis on the initiative and concluded the time-savings make it well worth the expense.