Backup Plan

By He, Enya | Risk Management, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Backup Plan


He, Enya, Risk Management


Lessons of CEO Succession Planning From the 2010 BCS Championship Game

Had the Texas Longhorns coaching staff envisioned the nightmare scenario of losing their starting quarterback, would that alone have changed the outcome of the game?

January 7, 2010, 8:30 p.m. All eyes of college football fans are on the field of Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California, for the biggest college football game of the year. The stage was set for the Texas Longhorns and the Alabama Crimson Tide to compete for the Bowl Championship Series' final and most a important game. Each ream had impressively finished the 2009 season undefeated, and the two teams had won a combined 16 national championships coming into this night. The lights could not be brighter and the stakes could not be higher.

During Texas' first possession of the game, their star quarterback Colt McCoy went down with an injury and was replaced Garrett Gilbert, a freshman whose college game experience included only 26 passes in nine games.

Before McCoy was hurt, the Longhorns seemed to have all the The Crimson Tide failed a fake punt, which led to Longhorn field goal. Even shortly after McCoy was out of the the Crimson Tide failed to recover a kickoff, which led to three points for the Longhorns. But Alabama's defense soon took full advantage of McCoy's absence and crushed the inexperienced Gilbert on their way to a 37-21 victory.

Whether it was the absence of McCoy, one of the best quarin the nation, or Coach Mack Brown's decision to stick with an inexperienced freshman quarterback that cost the Longhorns the 2010 national championship will be long debated in college football circles. For risk management professionals, however, these events underscore the importance of CEO succession planning. There are two important lessons that can be taken away from this situation.

Lesson #1:

An organization must consider the possibility of losing a top employee.

In the case of the Texas Longhorns, it was apparent the coaching staff had not considered losing their new quarterback in their pre-game planning sessions. Granted, McCoy had never been injured during his entire college career leading up to the game, but such a possibility was not unheard of. Who would have thought that Sam Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner and the star quarterback for Oklahoma, would suffer a season-ending shoulder injury in 2009. Or that Tom Brady, one of the most successful and durable quarterbacks in the NFL would have gone down with a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of he first week of in the 2008 season? These seemingly lowfrequency events, when they do happen, result in high-severity losses.

In the case of sports teams, the loss of the starting quarterback can be a nightmare. A similar situation could happen in the corporate world when a sudden need arises to replace a top executive. For example, if the company CEO embarks on a ski trip to Colorado, there is a chance he might be critically injured during the trip. If the company president is diagnosed with cancer, there is a chance she might not have long to live. If the chairman of the board of directors is flying to France on a business trip, there is a chance he might die in a plane crash. All of these events are unlikely, low-frequency events, but if any of them actually happens, the impact will be severe. For many small- and medium-sized businesses, especially those with hands-on leadership, the death of a key employee can have a devastating effect on the entire business, sometimes severely crippling the company's ability to survive.

Had the Texas Longhorns coaching staff envisioned the nightmare scenario of losing their starting quarterback, would that alone have changed the outcome of the game? Not necessarily. Just envisioning a scenario is not enough; they also need a viable action plan to prepare for such an event. That brings us to the second key learning point. …

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