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Passing the baton smoothly, DuPont-style

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Few boards and managers nurture a stable of successors. Yet the need for top talent is high, as more executives step down. A record 1,484 U.S.-based CEOs left their jobs in 2008, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

At DuPont, they know the value of a good succession plan: President Henry du Pont’s death in 1889 left the company without a strong leader, and the company was nearly sold.

Earlier this year, they executed a seamless transition. Here’s how to employ their tactics:

Identify talent early.
As soon as Charles O. Holliday Jr. became CEO in 1998, he began talking about succession. He identified top lieutenant Ellen J. Kullman as a possibility.

Give them opportunities to prove themselves. Kullman was given a newly formed safety-products division and turned it into the company’s highest-earning segment.

Bolster their experience. Holliday helped Kullman join the General Motors board in 2004.

Coach to fill in the gaps.
Holliday urged his protégé to work with a coach to modify her impatient nature.

— Adapted from “ The Art of CEO Succession,” Matthew Boyle, BusinessWeek.

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