Dr. Seuss on Succession Planning: Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!

In August 1972, the celebrated children’s author Dr. Seuss addressed the issue of succession planning. His chief character in the book Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! couldn’t bring himself to get out of the way and let someone else take center stage. In July 1974, Dr. Seuss sent a copy of the book—with the main character’s name changed to Richard M. Nixon—to columnist Art Buchwald, who received permission to publish it as his column for July 30. Nine days later, Richard M. Nixon went.

This isn’t a political column about the first president in history to resign. It is, however, somewhat of an editorial on knowing when to leave and having the grace and good sense to do so. Think about the people in sports, business, etc. who stayed long after their careers had peaked and their ability to perform at a world-class level had diminished.

Here are common reasons for hanging around:

  1. I do not have a capable, competent, committed family successor ready to take my place.

  2. I do not have sufficient management talent within the organization to build a succession bridge to gap the development time required for a family successor.

  3. I do not have sufficient personal wealth separate from the business to maintain the lifestyle I have come to enjoy.

  4. I still like and enjoy what I do, and I am still good at it.

  5. No one knows the business like I do.

  6. What else would I do?

For every reason, there is an opportunity to plan your way out of the business. It is possible to prepare yourself and the business for your departure. For many business owners the best time to have started was 10 years ago. The next-best time to plan your exit (or escape) is today.

If you fall into the “what else would I do?” category, then you have become the victim of your own success. A lot of business owners and executives become what they do. When that happens, their deepest concern is: “If I am what I do, what will happen to me when I don’t?”

Next time, we’ll give you some practical ideas on how to avoid becoming the Marvin K. Mooney of your own organization.