Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Succession Planning and Discrimination

William Neuman of New York Times looks today at the retirement of McDonald's President and Chief Operating Officer, Ralph Alvarez, largely for medical reasons, after only three years as second-in-command at the international burger giant.

An 'expert' cited in the article, At McDonald’s, a Retirement Stirs Questions, is quite perturbed, apparently, by the company's succession planning processes:
Nell Minow, a founder of the Corporate Library, which rates the performance of boards, said “high turnover at the sub-C.E.O. level is always a risk factor.”

... But she also said that Mr. Alvarez’s chronic health condition, although not life-threatening, should have made the board wary of promoting him to such a position in the first place, given McDonald’s recent history.

“It’s an important part of the C.E.O. succession planning process that you have to have a very frank conversation about health issues,” Ms. Minow said. “Somebody was not asking the right questions there.

In other words, Ms. Minow is critical of the McDonald's board for the company's non-discriminatory promotion of Mr. Alvarez.

In Canada, those "right questions" about health and disability may well be unlawful to even ask.

Is Ms. Minow actually advocating a corporate culture in which potentially-disabled people simply need not apply for promotion to high executive positions?

(If so, I suppose we shouldn't even talk about women of child-rearing age).

What nonsense.

Once again, thank goodness for our Canadian human rights codes and tribunals.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

Update: January 1, 2010

Ms. Minow has responded with a comment to this post:

I appreciate the post, but you misunderstood my comment. I have disabled family members and my family has worked for and written about the rights of the disabled. This is not about disability; it is about the obligation of boards of directors to have a frank and candid conversation about elements related to succession planning for key corporate officers. I understand why that distinction may not have been clear from the brief excerpt of my comments included in the article, but before you assume the worst you might want to consider looking a bit further.

I'm not sure how responsive this comment is to the concerns raised in the initial post, but we very much appreciate the feedback.

- GJW

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