Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Notes from the Case Files: Succession Planning

By Jesseca P. Timmons, a case writer in Entrepreneurial Studies and Social Entrepreneurship for The Lewis Institute at Babson College.

We never know exactly what we’re getting into when we start a new case study. When Les Charm, Ed Marram and I started writing about Sy Friedland and Boston’s Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS), we knew the case would be focused on the on the leadership transition that happened when Sy stepped down after 18 transformative years as CEO. What we didn’t know was the level of complexity involved in this transition, or that the way Sy handled the process would open up a whole new aspect to the case.

Sy related his story: after nearly 20 years at the helm of JFCS, he knew that announcing his retirement would be hard on the agency. Sy hoped to manage the transition in a way that would leave JFCS’s operations and fundraising capabilities unaffected. He had a candidate in mind to fill his shoes: Executive Director of Programming Rimma Zelfman, who had served as interim CEO of JFCS while Sy was on sabbatical the previous year. While Sy was totally confident in Rimma’s ability to take the helm of JFCS, he was wary of choosing his own successor, as the agency didn’t have a great track record when it came to high-level hires.

Previously, Sy and the JFCS board had employed “pricey headhunters” for executive level searches, but these searches had resulted in more than one costly mis-hire–including two candidates who did not work out as COO. These experiences had left the board emotionally drained and wary of both headhunters and their own judgement. Around that time, Sy became acquainted with Ron Garonzik, then a consultant with The Hay Group, who specialized, among other things, in high-level corporate on-boarding. To try to avoid another disastrous mis-hire, Sy had asked Ron to help JFCS find a successful candidate for the COO position pro-bono. Ron agreed, and his assistance resulted in the hiring of a fantastic COO who was still with the agency.

When it came time to find his own successor, Sy immediately thought of Ron and the Hay Group and how they had saved the day with the COO search. Sy approached Ron and asked if he would consider helping JFCS again, with the understanding that the non-profit could only afford to pay a fraction of Hay Group’s typical billing rate. Ron—now US Head of Leadership and Talent Management at Hay Group—had been equally impressed with Sy, and jumped at the chance to work together again, noting: “It is a great experience for us–a chance to test out new ideas. Few nonprofits use our services–not because of the cost, which is what you might think, but because they don’t think strategically about high level human resource decisions. Sy is very unusual that way.”

Ron agreed to create a Hay Group “Position Profile” TM around Sy’s role at JFCS. Using the Profile, Hay Group would then comprehensively assess the proposed candidate against the actual requirements of the COO job and determine whether there was a good fit.

As soon as Sy mentioned Hay Group, Ed and Les’ ears perked up. Les said, “This is amazing, high level stuff –the Position Profiles, the actual onboarding process–this is stuff we don’t typically cover in MBA classes because it is so specialized and proprietary. This is great for our students to learn about!” Ed agreed—this was a whole new area we could expose students too. Our next step: to interview Ron Garonzik about his fascinating work with JFCS.