Where Have All the General Managers Gone?

A dearth of talented GMs is creating a senior executive talent gap.

In logistics, just-in-time (JIT) deliveries are scheduled to arrive at the precise moment items are needed for assembly lines or retail sales. Any break in the supply chain results in empty shelves or parts bins and a consequential loss in revenue. Leadership pipelines are similar. Gaps in the talent development system can leave organizations short of individuals who have been carefully groomed to move quickly into senior roles just as they are needed.

“As economic conditions improve, organizations are realizing they face a talent gap that will hamper their ability to grow the business.”

As economic conditions improve, organizations are realizing they face a “talent gap” that will hamper their ability to grow the business. With few exceptions, the clients I work with today are concerned about their ability to maintain an uninterrupted flow of talented individuals at the general manager level who can be “called up” to the corporate team as opportunities arise.

“The general manager position is an excellent stepping stone for advancement to the senior executive ranks. It provides a solid foundation for the next phase of intense development and experience necessary to fully prepare individuals for the C-suite,” says Denise Morrison, president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company.

During the recent downturn, however, many organizations sold off or consolidated their smaller businesses, thus eliminating opportunities for GMs to hone their skills by overseeing a business unit’s marketing and sales functions, as well as the day-to-day business operations.

The largest Fortune 500 firms like Proctor & Gamble or GE, have both well-funded programs and a wealth of GM development opportunities they can exploit as conditions warrant. Executives move in, grow and move up on a continual talent-development cycle. However, most companies don’t have that luxury. So what can the average-sized organization do to leverage its expansion scenarios?


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