Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Search within to find the goodness that lurks

This is a test to see how capable you are of running an organization.

It can be any organization – a corporation, a city, a college, even a newspaper.

Let’s say your No. 1 person is leaving – by retirement or for any other reason. What do you do to hire a replacement, to fill the void in a satisfactory manner so the organization keeps humming without interruption, without skipping a beat?

1. Launch a nationwide search to find a new leader.

2. Promote from within. Move someone who is already part of the organization up to the top spot.
Here is my response:

The first option is a terrible choice. Even if you do find a great leader, the new boss is always looking for another job. Show me a person who is selected following a nationwide search and I will show you someone who is always reading the want ads in trade journals, always looking for a job that is a little bit better, one that pays a few more bucks.

But a good organization is one that has prepared its best and brightest — through years of on-the-job training — to develop the skills necessary to step up to the next level.

I could cite thousands of examples why this is true, but the latest — and a perfect example to substantiate my point — jumped off the front page on Wednesday.

The headline said, “Mentor picks new chief.” I read the story with eager anticipation, because I knew Chief Dan Llewellyn was in the process of retiring.

Dan has been a terrific chief — for 10 years. He came up through the ranks and has been everything a city could expect of a chief.

When he was brand new on the job, Executive Editor Tricia Ambrose and I invited him to lunch — as I recall it was at the Perfect Match — to get to know him better. I’m glad we did.

The new chief will be Kevin Knight, now a captain with the department. Perfect! The city has made an excellent choice. Congratulations to City Manager Ken Filipiak and the members of City Council for doing their jobs the right way.

Kevin is the right man for the job. He is the top-ranking captain with the department and has been a Mentor cop for 31 years.

I have met him a few times because Dan has been bringing him to the monthly meetings of the Lake County Police Chiefs Association, a group of which I am proud to belong since being made an honorary lifetime member on Aug. 23, 1983.

I owe a debt of gratitude to three chiefs at the time for the honor – Bill Crosier of Willoughby, Bill DePledge of Eastlake and Bob Davis of Lakeline. But I digress.

I hope Tricia Ambrose and Managing Editor Laura Kessel take Kevin to lunch before long. They will become certain the city made a wise choice.

All this is worth mentioning because a few years ago Mentor took the other path to find a new chief. It conducted a nationwide search. To put a reverse spin on the old bromide, it was looking for lemonade and it got a lemon.

The chief the city hired was Joe Koziol. He was from Chicago or San Francisco, I forget which. He didn’t amount to much, commanded little respect and before long was gone — to another job in another state.

There are many examples of local executives who came up through the ranks, were well-trained for their jobs by their superiors, and by the time they took command were in familiar surroundings and didn’t have to ask where to find the restroom.

Crosier himself is a perfect example. He came up through the ranks in Willoughby before moving on to the Sheriff’s Department, his successor, recently retired Conrad Straube, was home-grown and one of the best chiefs I have ever known. And the city’s new chief, Jack Beckwith, is a veteran of the force and looks more every day like he will be a fine chief. And Jack’s father, Dwight Beckwith, was a Willoughby chief. How’s that for pedigree?

There are more examples than I have space to enumerate.  Painesville, Wickliffe and Eastlake have also promoted from within.

But let’s take this to a different level. The Cleveland Clinic and Lake Health System have found their leaders on their own staffs.

And Lakeland Community College President Morris Beverage went to Kirtland public schools, graduated from Lakeland and was the college’s financial vice president before assuming the top job.

There is no better college president anywhere. Period.

The bottom line (this almost is the bottom line) is that nationwide searches are for the birds — unless you’re looking for a birdbrain.


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