Manage This! is a regular commentary series by Fortune Senior Editor Jennifer Reingold on management and leadership. Suggestions/Comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The last time A.G. Lafley stepped down as CEO of the Procter & Gamble Company (PG), it was interpreted (by many, but especially by me), as one of the most carefully considered handoffs in corporate history.
I spent days with Lafley and his successor, Bob McDonald (now head of the federal Veterans Affairs Administration), and the piece Fortune published detailed exactly how—and why—McDonald was chosen. Lafley retired in 2009, hailed as an all-time CEO hero, and began a gilded semi-retirement as an in-demand guru on corporate strategy.
But for all the work done to ensure a smooth succession, it didn’t work. For many reasons, including the recession, Lafley’s quick exit as chairman, and McDonald’s own missteps, P&G’s perfectly planned succession turned sour. Under McDonald’s tenure, the consumer products giant battled a big slowdown in its core beauty business, slowing innovation, scrutiny from activist shareholders, and sinking morale. In 2013, McDonald resigned under pressure, to be replaced by Lafley once again. (For Fortune’s deep dive on this, see “Can Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald hang on?”)
Now, less than two years later, WSJ is reporting—and the company is “not commenting on speculation”—that David Taylor is about to be named the next CEO of the $83 billion in sales Procter & Gamble. Will this handoff go better than the last one?
Certainly, if the transition is announced on Tuesday, after the company’s board meeting, it would come as no surprise. Taylor, a 35-year P&G vet, has long been considered a top contender. Since a reshuffling in January, when Taylor was elevated to group president for global beauty, grooming and health care, it seemed all but certain that he would be the next inhabitant of the corner office. Like McDonald, Taylor checks all the boxes of a typical P&G CEO: a long career at the company, including both global (China, Western Europe) and multiple business unit expertise (hair, family, home care); he’s well respected internally; and, yes, he’s a white male (several female candidates fell by the wayside).
“David is a great choice,” says former P&G global head of marketing Jim Stengel. “He is smart, engaging, deep in integrity, and totally committed to P&G.”
Lafley has done a lot of reorganizing in his second tenure at P&G. He announced the company’s intention to sell off some 100 underperforming brand, tried to get the moribund culture moving, and cut costs dramatically. Yet the company’s stock performance has lagged what it was under McDonald, and sales growth remains stagnant, up an estimated 2% in the fiscal year ended June 30.
Lafley is clearly committed to P&G’s success, and he deserves enormous credit for giving up his comfortable and easy retirement to focus on the hard stuff. But if he leaves now—after less than two years back at the helm and with the company still facing the same secular challenges as before—it’s hard not to consider his reputation in a different light, and wonder whether yet another perfectly qualified internal candidate can make a difference.