J.M. Huber, one of the largest and oldest family-held companies in the US, had strategically repositioned itself several times since it was founded in 1883 as a dry-color business. Visionary family leaders and a committed senior management team had transformed the group into an international player with operations in more than 20 countries and about half of its 4,000 employees based outside North America.
A portfolio management company (PMC), J.M. Huber became one of the key players in hydrocolloids, specialty chemicals and minerals, and engineered woods, and in 2017 it booked sales of US$2.3 billion. In 1993, Peter T. Francis, a fourth-generation family member, became chairman and CEO. For the fifth time in J.M. Huber’s history, the family took complete leadership of the company. The years ahead were not always kind. In 2004 the firm had levered up its balance sheet to complete the largest acquisition in its history. Then, 2006 brought the collapse of the US housing market, and the economic crisis of 2007 hit many of J.M. Huber’s key markets hard, putting the group under pressure.
In the midst of the crisis, the company faced another significant milestone in its long history: Peter T. Francis had already announced in 2004 that he planned to retire in 2009. He was well aware that leadership succession was one of the most delicate moments for a family business, even in the best of times.
How did the family and the board of directors support Peter T. Francis’s decision to step down from his dual leadership function in the middle of the global recession? How was the succession engineered? What came first: CEO succession or chairman succession? Who was chosen for the CEO and the chairman positions: internal or external candidates, family or non-family members?
Managing leadership succession in family business:
- CEO succession and succession on the board (Chairman succession)
- crisis management
- family business values