This week Dion Weisler stepped down as CEO of HP and placed Enrique Lores into the role. This transition was a showcase of excellent succession planning given Enrique Lores both managed the largest part of HP and is one of their most successful executives. But what I want to focus on is priorities and why what Dion Weisler did should be a best practice that other top executives should take to heart. You see, we all retire at some point and I’ve known a lot of ex-CEOs most of which were very unhappy after they finally stepped down largely because they never put family first, so their family isn’t there when they finally have time.
Let’s talk about that this week.
Forgetting What’s Important
As I was listening to Dion talk about the reason he was stepping down, I recalled my grandfather, who was wedded to his job and the company he created in the oil business. His focus on work resulted in his kids getting very little of his attention and his son turned out to be a failure and his daughter died because they just weren’t high enough priorities in his life.
His daughter’s death broke him, he just wasn’t the same person after that, and when he did retire, he was left with a marriage where his wife resented the decisions he’d made and a son that blamed him for every mistake the son had made.
He spent much of the time I knew him trying to recapture the feeling he had as CEO and failing, which tended to make him drink too much and become increasingly abusive. I would describe his life as CEO as relatively empty of the things that a family could bring and the time after he finally retired as one of deep regret.
This lack of prioritizing seems to badly impact the lives of otherwise successful people who seem to forget that their reason for striving so hard is to benefit their family and then place the job in front of the people who were supposed to be at the center of their world. This ass-backward approach to work damages their ability to enjoy life and, I think, many would trade the massive wealth they’ll never spend for just of a few minutes more time with their young children, back when those kids still looked up to them.
I recall a conversation with one of the richest and most powerful venture capitalists (VCs) in Silicon Valley who lamented, once they retired, that no one seemed to care about their opinions—that the only people that enjoyed their expensive toys were their “friends,” and that their string of failed marriages, mostly done for status and appearances, were a waste. He was both one of the richest and one of the most unhappy people I’ve ever met.
Dion’s Better Path
What Dion Weisler showcased is a better path. Wealth and power are a trap, and they can lead to forgetting what is truly important. He doesn’t want to end his life, like so many others, regretting he didn’t do the right thing for his family, so he got his priorities straight and stepped down.
And the other unusual thing is that he picked the guy that was the best internal candidate and likely far stronger than any external candidate as well. A lot of CEOs seem more concerned that their successor will show them up, and boards often seem to feel they want someone from outside to “shake things up.” HP has gone down that path before with Carly Fiorina, and it didn’t end well. So Dion stepping down in favor of his family and picking a top replacement are both showcases of his better path.
There is a thing we call work/life balance, and most executives get this wrong. Also, most of the CEO changes I’ve seen over the years have gone badly because the CEO or the board, for a variety of bad reasons, make these choices badly. In this case, Dion is showcasing he understands the need to favor family over career—particularly later in life—and that picking the best candidate in Enrique Lores is also the best path for both him and HP. It is just nice to see these things go right for once. Congrats to Dion, Enrique, and HP’s board for a job very well done!