Stepping Down for Innovation

futurethink gordon segal crate and barrel

I was flipping through Inc. Magazine over the weekend, and came across a short interview with Crate and Barrel founder and (soon-to-be-former) CEO Gordon Segal. I was hooked by the byline: “Forty-six years ago, Gordon Segal and his wife, Carole, borrowed $17,000 and opened a cavernous store in Chicago’s Old Town, selling products such as forged flatware and fine china. Today, Crate and Barrel operates more than 165 retail locations.”

Reading on, it turns out that Crate and Barrel is on track to hit $1.45 billion in sales in 2008. Not bad. But apart from these interesting nuggets on the company’s history and growth, Segal bestowed on us a few choice words on innovation. When asked “Why leave now?”, Segal answered:

You can stay until they wheel you out on a gurney, but as you get older-and more successful-you begin to believe there’s only one way to do things. You get fixated on what’s made you successful. Innovative ideas come from younger people coming up in a company, and those people need to be given more authority. As Barbara steps up to do my job, the young leaders will step up to do her job, which is another reason doing this now is important. (emphasis ours)

An intriguing insight for sure. So many of today’s most innovative companies are headed by “celebrity CEOs.” Steve Jobs and Apple, Eric Schmidt and Google, Indra Nooyi and Pepsi, Chris Bengal and BMW; the list goes on. These leaders are certainly responsible for much of their respective companies’ growth and success, but when is the right time for them to step down and give someone else a chance at bat?

Segal’s successor at Crate and Barrel is no rookie – Barbara Turf is a 40-year veteran of the company and has served as second-in-charge to Mr. Segal for much of her career. But she’s sure to do things a little differently, sure to bring a different outlook to the job, and that might be a really good thing for the company.

Too often, CEOs and executives are replaced during tumultuous, crisis-ridden times. Why don’t more successful leaders follow Segal’s lead and step aside while the going is good? Submit your thoughts in the Comments section.

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3 Responses to Stepping Down for Innovation

  1. John Thomas says:

    Why fix something that ain’t broke? Leaders should develop future talent but stay in place if profits are up and business is doing well.

  2. Mr. Segal’s assistant Vicki Lang told me Gordon may be stepping down, but he is not slowing down. He has many interests outside the business including his beloved property in Wisconsin that is a grandchild’s paradise. He is active in any charity with which his name is associated. You can be sure that whatever he is doing, it is being done with great vigor and purpose. He never was a man to “stay in place,” and neither do the things around him. His departure is a natural progression that was sensibly planned and properly implemented.
    Michael Horne

  3. I searched on google and I had a hard time located the right info….until I found your blog.

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