March 29, 2021

I expect there will be many leadership transitions as the pandemic ebbs and businesses find their new “what’s next”. Many senior leaders will decide they are exhausted with the economic and other trauma of COVID. Some may retire fully; others will move to an organization more in line with their personal core principles. Such was the case in the aftermath of 9/11 and the 2008 recession. I anticipate similar reactions now.

Patagonia, long known for doing things their own way, has once again shown us an example of how it operates differently than other American businesses. Former CEO Rose Marcario, who was considered highly successful and well-respected in her leadership role at Patagonia, stepped down unexpectedly in June. There was no drawn out transition plan, no successor in place to shift toward. And according to both Marcario and the company, there was no scandal or drama surrounding her departure – it was simply a mutually agreed-upon decision.

“I felt like I had accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish as a leader. I felt like I had learned everything that I wanted to from Yvon [Yvon Chouinard, founder]. A lot of C.E.O.s stay a little too long at the fair. I think it’s good for companies to have new leadership.” ~ Marcario in an interview with The New York Times

Perhaps there is more to the story; and despite our craving for details, maybe there isn’t more to the story. Or it’s none of our business, and that’s ok, too.

Too often, leaders have a hard time transitioning out, letting go. In other examples, to create the image of seamlessness or to diffuse significant turmoil, new leaders and previous leaders work together for an extended period. None of which allows for a clear transition.

“We were going through a process of really looking at what the future would look like. And the reality is it made more sense to have the new leadership lead, and take forward that process. That was a mutual decision. At some point, the student has to leave the master.” ~ Marcario

All too often, there are platitudes about “new opportunities,” or choices to spend time in other ways.

“The reality is I feel like I’m just entering a different stage in my life… during this stage of your life, you hand over your day-to-day responsibilities to the next generation and become an adviser and a teacher.” ~ Marcario

Marcario and Patagonia’s handling of this signification change shows us that a transition can happen for good and right and timely reasons and doesn’t have to come packaged with drama in the backstory or blaming or shenanigans as it unfolds. It can simply be what it is. A moving on for both parties. A clean break and fresh start.