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Quick departures always raise questions

When a CEO steps down, journalists raise half an eyebrow. Is this a planned departure, in the works for months, with a readymade successor ready to step out of the wings? Or does it have a whiff of a hastily scrabbled jump (with, or without a push) suggesting possible malcontent, ill will, a clash of styles, or something else?

Quick departures always lead to questions. On occasion, when trying to find out what really happened, we are reminded of this gem from BBC interviewer Jeremy Paxman who asked then UK home secretary Michael Howard a dozen times back in 1997 whether he threatened to overrule the head of the prison service. It was a straightforward question which Howard ducked shamelessly.

Why is this relevant? Because on occasion we ask “did you sack your CEO?” and the company in question declines to respond – perhaps pointing to a press release that talks about leaving by mutual agreement. We often wonder why he or she hasn’t simply said “no”.

This week we write about the departure of Dr. Carla Kriwet from Fresenius Medical Care. Officially in position only a couple of months (she began at the start of October) and announced to great fanfare, seemingly out of the blue a press release circulated confirming she had left with immediate effect, saying her departure was due to ‘strategic differences’.

Beyond former British prime minister Liz Truss (who resigned after just 44 days), we struggle to think of a shorter tenure for a recent leader.

Having been appointed unanimously by the board earlier in the year and with an impeccable CV, you have to ask: what changed?

Is it possible in the Q3 presentation one month into her post (at the end of October), she said “one month is not enough time to have a full strategic plan detailed out and I will not be in a position to answer questions today” – then in the first week of November she formulated a strategy potentially at odds with that of her bosses? Deals and Insights members can read more about this elsewhere on our site.

It is possible the changes she proposed were unpalatable to her bosses. And it is equally interesting to note that, when asked specifically whether it had sacked her, Fresenius declined to say more (or indeed, simply, “no”) and referred us to a carefully crafted press release.

In contrast to this we have well managed departures like those of GCC hospital giant NMC’s former CEO Michael Davis, or Lars Dahle, former CEO (and founder) of digital focused group Dignio. Months ahead of the actual departure date, their leaving is promulgated, their successor sought (though quite possibly kept under wraps) – and there is no scandal.

Does that mean where this smooth, well-planned handover doesn’t happen that there’s always a scandal? No. But it certainly makes it more likely, and is likely to raise a lot of questions.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to David Farbrother or call 0207 183 3779.