By Melito Salazar Jr.
One of the most difficult decisions businessmen and managers have to make is when to leave the organization that they either established or have been steering for quite sometime. Do they go when the enterprise is at its zenith, exiting in glory? What if after their departure the company starts a downhill path, will they not be faulted for not ensuring the continuing success? On the other hand, they could find themselves being ousted if the company performance is dismal over a number of years. Let me share some situations which could indicate that it is time to let go.
I was invited to a briefing on a joint venture between a professional association and an academic institution which was on its 20th year. In the program the new executive director who had just been on the job for a few months was to present. What happened was a founding professional, using the excuse that the young man was not that familiar with the history and operations ended up giving the presentation and answering the questions. I noticed that as a barrage of inquiries came (mostly directed on whether the goals had been achieved) the professional became more and more agitated, making statements – why there were so many questions; even chiding those who had not attended the annual board meeting. All the time the executive director just stood like an ornament in front of the audience. I recalled my early days in the University of the Philippines when appointed to a position, I was asked to present to a visiting group of academics just a week after. The Dean allowed me to dominate the proceedings knowing that I would do my homework and be prepared to do my job. If he had intervened in the manner that the founding professional did, it would have given the audience the impression that he was still running the show and could raise doubts as to the sustainability of the program. It seemed like the best time for that founding professional “to let go.”
Going over a book celebrating the centennial of an institution, which in its later years (around the last 25 years) had allegedly been controlled by a clique, I was struck by the contrast before the “takeover” and now. The heads of the institution in the earlier years though young were serving extensively in government panels and industry task forces. Eventually they were recruited by industry as top executives or as members of the board as well as appointed to high government positions. Those who served later and either were part of the cabal remained within the University with very little outside exposure and not even undertaking any significant academic research. It was as if having been the Dean was the only major accomplishment.
There were opportunities offered by outside groups like partnering in establishing centers more attuned to the times but the controlling group declined. My take was that they had become complacent and did not have the energy to take on new ventures or were not inclined to let the younger faculty take the lead for fear of losing control. The saving grace was their students accepted after a rigid screening process making a former Dean remark, “our students are so brilliant, we do not have to do anything.” The thought that immediately popped in my mind was – what a great opportunity to challenge such students to reach heights of creativity and excellence with brilliant and mentoring faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, partnerships with leading universities abroad and regular international and regional research fora.
Program offerings were not subjected to industry inputs and if they were, the same businessmen were always invited. The group avoided hearing critical comments and even the faculty had degrees from the same academic institution with the attendant dangers of “inbreeding.” The ferment and lively discussions that one would expect in an academic setting, I am told had been replaced by “karaoke” sessions. It looked like for the good of the institution the clique should have let go earlier and allowed new blood to come in with the vigor, vitality and innovativeness to bring back the “glory days” of a school they obviously loved so much. It may also been good for them to have a well-deserved rest.
As a young assistant professor, one special assignment then UP President O.D. Corpuz gave me was to go to a university unit when the head’s term was ending and give him an objective, candid assessment. I remember in one instance where I reported to him how the head who in fact had after overcoming great odds established the center and accomplished so much. However if the center had to move forward, he would have to be replaced since he considered the center his “baby”and I believed his being a smothering “mother hen” would inhibit growth. He was replaced by a UP “outsider” who set the foundation for succession and excellence with research assistants sent abroad for doctorate degrees, joint research with international science institutions, upgrading facilities, eventually transforming the center to be recognized internationally as a leading research center in its field.
I hope those who need “to let go” should do so for the good of the organisations they serve and maybe also for their own good.