Recruiting the best person: Not just a Papal issue

In the last few months, dozens of CEOs of major organisations have ‘resigned’. For most it leads back to the ‘Shareholder Spring’ and Fat Cat revolt of H1 2012. As discussed in Pick on the Big Guys as early as last May, we predicted an ongoing trend in major corporation’s CEOs departing, often with a bit of help. Some went under a cloud of poor performance, some went under a slightly darker cloud of scandal…

…plenty however left because with (often misguided) shareholder vilification and personal circumstances meaning they didn’t need to work, they suddenly couldn’t be bothered with the increased stress and decreased earnings. It has all meant that chosing the right person is a far bigger task than most people realize…and undertaking such processes without external guidance is fraught with risk.

Today there was an announcement that the ‘top man’ of one of the world’s largest (and some would say richest) organisations has tendered his resignation. Not overly unusual in light of the above….except this was the leader of the Catholic Church, and he’s not the CEO. He’s the Pope. Even more unusual this is the first time a Pope has resigned for 2 years short of 600 years.

POPEOK, so we’re not going to suggest that he’s left because the Catholic Church had turned on him in a Shareholder Spring style revolt, nor that he has simply had enough as his earnings and job expectations were heading in opposite directions. He has certainly presided over his fair share of scandal in the church from alleged sexual antics of priests and rumours following Dan Brown’s novels to the adopting of Social Media as a communication tool…. but it does leave a major organization suddenly having to locate a new chief.

His departure has been blamed on his advancing years. but the sudden realization that he was becoming older and less able to fulfill his duties isn’t something that cropped up on a Sunday evening and caused a swift announcement on a Monday morning.

For 600 years, the job title of ‘Pontiff’ meant a job for life, that was certainly the expectation for Pope Benedict who at 78 years of age, was the oldest newly appointed Pope since Alexander VIII in 1689. …and yet even he hasn’t made it such.

There was certainly no HeadHunter involved in his appointment, nor any real outside guidance (obviously not including divine guidance). He was appointed by his peers, the ultimate Closed Shop. Was he the right appointee at 78 years old? At the time there was great applause from the Age Discrimination lobbyists but in the cold light of day, was he the right choice for a modern day organisation?…even one as steeped in history as the Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church is a very traditional organisation (although readers of Mario Puzo’s The Family will have seen a different form of it’s history/tradition), BUT….this is a highly changing world.  The media was in awe as Pope Benedict publically tweeted for the first time, but the necessity to adapt to change is far greater that the use of an iPad. Was a 78 year old man really the best choice? And what lessons will be taken from that moving forward?

Leading a highly traditionalist organisation in a wildly, fast changing world is a tough gig – just ask David Cameron in the era of Gay Marriage and Inheritance Tax freezes. Embracing change, reacting (and evolving) to this changing world is a big task in any circumstance – to do so as the leader in arguably the world’s most traditional organisation takes a superhuman being. This is exactly what the Pope is viewed as, but his eminence is still human,…and crucially is still dealing with humans.

Let’s introduce the focal point for much of the corporate hatred: Barclays. The only Bank not to need direct government bailouts, wildly profitable and one of the few genuine Blue-Chip organistions in the UK. The former leader, Bob Diamond, was superhuman in banking terms. Took his Investment Banking division through a 5-fold increase in revenue and a 12-fold increase in profitability….leading them to account for three-quarters of the entire Group’s profits. Little wonder then that he was promoted to CEO, yet 18 months later he and Chairman Marcus Agius were out, vilified and branded dinosaurs. An old fashioned organisation in a changing world.

Barclays answer has been to de-risk the situation in Anthony Jenkins and new Chairman Sir David Walker. Both are, by comparison, beige. But both have appeased the media and the rampaging anti-banker public by sanitizing the organisation, with only the shareholders being less enamored by the expected plummeting profits. As discussed in the blog “The Risk of Recruiting a Bunch of Bankers”, forcibly changing the culture of an organisation is a dangerous game, no matter how much it is needed, and in Barclays case, the only way is down.

Even I am not going to attempt to draw parallels between Barclays and the Catholic Church. The Church does, however, need to take a long hard look at the pool of ‘talent’ it can call upon, the appointment processes it goes through and the backdrop of the 21st Century we live in.

Even more importantly, the appointee will need to understand that in the age of rapid change, a more visceral (and vocal) public and an increasingly volatile macro AND micro economic environment, never has the case been greater for recruiting the right person and getting external perspective on who that may be.

NB: This is an adapted version of my guest blog as seen on

11 Comments on “Recruiting the best person: Not just a Papal issue”

  1. Do love your take on life Gary, another great blog. You draw some interesting parallels and although I’m sure you mean the post to be lighthearted, you make some excellent points. The Catholic Church will always be a closed shop, but other businesses need not be.

  2. I remember your points made when we met last summer. As a woman in business and one of the few FTSE board members, the selection criteria and vital need to gain external, specialist advice is critical. Business ignore and plough their own furrow at their own peril.

  3. Good blog Gary, I’m not sure comparing the appointment of a Pope is quite the same as appointing a Director of a business, but I do see you point. As a Catholic, the process undertaken is vital for the Catholic church to retain it’s core values.

  4. Really interest viewpoint Gary. Have to ask. How would you go about advising the Conclave on it’s selection of leader?

  5. Great comments again Gary. Always staggered by the number of businesses that get external advise on the colour scheme in their offices but think they know best when it comes to recruiting business critical leaders.

  6. Great and topical blog Gary. The notion of a conclave could be interesting in business. Take the example of Barclays. If they were to get nominations from all the staff, then get the same staff to vote on who they would like to see lead the business, we may get a better and fairer outcome? Just a thought?

  7. Great points Gary. Scary how many businesses are stuck in the same rut as the church, refusing to modernise yet failing through it. No surprise when they have no fresh process or ideas.

    Keep up the good work. Love your blogs and your tweets.

  8. Very thought provoking blogpost Gary. As a Catholic I am set to disagree with much of your opinion but your points are nonetheless valid. Tradition is a huge part of our church as as Sophie says above, flying on the face of such tradition is a significant undertaking and risk the ruination of the church at its core. If we are to protect the teachings and examples set over centuries, we must uphold the processes which have been time proven for much of that time.

    I might suggest that business could learn from the church?

  9. I would argue that both the recruitment tactics employed by businesses are no better than those employed by the church through it’s conclave. Both have worked for generations, but neither have been found infallible. We need to understand what alternate routes can be taken to gain greater success? Perhaps adopting the political idea of fixed terms?

  10. Interesting reading your comments now that Pope Francis has been announced. He ticks a lot of your boxes, but where are you on his age?

    Great blog though Gary.

  11. Pingback: Replacing Fergie | Gary Chaplin


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