As I hear high praise given bankers and other businesspeople who have built up and run effective organizations, I always think of the famous advice attributed to Yogi Berra: "It ain't over till it's over."
Until these people have actually turned over the company to a successor, we are lacking the final word on how good a job they have done and what their legacy will be.
One point is certain: It is hard for an effective leader to give up the reins. The same characteristics that made the person a solid CEO, section manager, or head of whatever group he or she has run makes it hard to step back and watch someone else take over.
The ego boost that managers get in business is hard to replace. As the leader, if you say something, it is usually law. And I find that many managers are so in control that when I ask them, "What's the biggest mistake you ever made?", they answer, in effect, "Mistake? I don't know what the word means."
Giving up this kind of power is not easy. The perks disappear. People who waited weeks to see you while you were active walk past you with a wave and little more when you return for lunch or to visit.
I remember having lunch with an old student, an assistant secretary at a money-center bank who was celebrating his first title by taking me as his inaugural guest to the officers' lunchroom.
During lunch, we spied an elderly gentleman eating lunch alone. My former student told me I could have lunch with the man if I was "willing to listen to him." I realized that, before the man retired, having lunch with him had been an honor few officers ever received.
Retirement of CEOs and other top people can be equally hard on their banks. Many aging executives do not adequately prepare replacements; they hope their banks will do worse after they are gone, making them seem larger than life in retrospect.
I remember a man who had sold his bank and then realized that being No. 2 in the merged organization was no fun. "I had everything as CEO and gave it up," he moaned.
As fate would have it, the CEO he reported to died unexpectedly, and he got the top spot back again. He vowed he would never give it up again.
As a result, when he died, the bank had no in-house successor ready. He had considered any potential heir a threat to him and had not prepared one.
There are also cases in which a former CEO tries to continue running the bank from his board seat, making life miserable for his successor and for the entire banking operation.
The final test of a good manager is that he or she is prepared to leave and wants the bank to be at least as strong as when he was running it, or possibly stronger.
This can be done if retirement is prepared for. Preparation can involve developing a challenging position in a nonprofit group or practicing hobbies. (But beware-most bankers admit that playing golf every day gets pretty boring. Some have even come back to monitor the parking lot rather than try to enjoy the links every day.)
Many can find useful work training others. Just as an example, Greg Gunther, CEO of Enhanced Communications Inc., New Providence, N.J., tells me he can always use retired bankers with specific qualifications to run programs for him on a part-time basis. Many other consulting firms have similar needs. Mr. Nadler, an American Banker contributing editor, is professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.