Holdorf thinks it’s exciting to fill a CSO’s shoes. “On one hand, the position is established and understood, and on the other hand I have had the opportunity to develop, evolve and scale the role,” she says. For example, Kellogg’s looked at the carbon and water footprint of their foods and knew it needed to increase its work with farmers and sustainable agriculture. Holdorf has seen her team expand, especially as employee engagement became critical in their progress to achieve the environmental reduction goals in their manufacturing plants. At Kellogg, under Holdorf’s leadership, the team has formalized its structure, added staff and developed further programs.
Advice for CSOs planning their succession
Heath has two pieces of advice to those CSOs seeking out their successor. First, don’t look for someone who is a mirror image of yourself. Second, make sure that the next CSO has the relationships necessary to serve in a role that often is based more on influence than authority.
Holdorf believes that in addition to requiring that your replacement have the technical skill set to be CSO, one should look for someone with the ability to, as Heath also recommends, lead through influence. In addition, she says a CSO doesn’t necessarily have to be someone from inside the company. “I had joined in 2008 as VP of environmental stewardship, health and safety, and prior to that I had done 18 years in global consulting.” In this way, Kellogg was willing to look outside the box for someone to take over the role that came from a different background.
How to succeed a CSO
From the other side of the table, we asked our succeeded CSOs if they had advice for those coming into the CSO role as a successor.
Heath recommends taking inventory of the internal and external landscape of one’s business before making any big decisions on objectives and priorities. “Get to know the team, get feedback from internal stakeholders and acquire a deep understanding of the external forces that are shaping your company’s sustainability agenda,” he says.
Holdorf insists that the most valuable piece of advice is that a person much have a zeal for sustainability. “We all have a passion and want to make a difference, a real need to drive connection to the business value,” she explains. CSOs should also connect the role back to what is unique to them as a company because that is what resonates for stakeholders.
Garrett shares this perspective. “A new CSO must resist the tendency to default into the same strategies and focus of his or her predecessor,” he says.
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