Some companies cheer when alumni move on and up

When talented executives jump ship to become CEOs elsewhere, U.S. leadership factories, including General Electric ge, Baxter International bax and Yum Brands yum, don't mourn the brain drain.

They revel in it. Consider:

•Baxter so celebrated its departures that it sponsored CEO reunions, says Harvard Business School professor Monica Higgins, author of Career Imprints, which documents Baxter's CEO alumni.

•When a GE highflier leaves "for a huge external opportunity, it enhances our employment brand," says Susan Peters, executive vice president of executive development.

•When USA TODAY e-mailed Procter & Gamble pg a list of 12 alumni, now CEOs of companies with a market cap of $2 billion, P&G faxed back a list of 128 chairmen, CEOs and CFOs. The list was alphabetical, from Fernando Aguirre of Chiquita Brands cqb to Sergio Zyman of Zyman Group.

Doug Tough, now CEO of protective glove and condom maker Ansell Ltd., joined P&G out of graduate school and worked there for 12 years before joining Cadbury Schweppes.

"At P&G, they accepted the fact that people simply leave, as other companies recognize P&G as a fertile training ground," Tough says. "I was hired away by a former P&Ger, as were many others. It was simply viewed as a fact of life."

P&G CEO A.G. Lafley says that when executives leave for greener pastures, they are warned not to recruit others with them. "We have a conversation about precisely that." Most want to maintain good relationships with P&G, he says.

GE has long participated in articles about its CEO all-stars. Peters says turnover is monitored closely, and "We lose less than 4% of our executives voluntarily each year." She says that's not bad, considering that headhunters call almost everyone at GE who has made middle manager. The average tenure of top GE executives: 28 years.

GE had just promoted Stephen Bennett and was surprised eight years ago when he sold his GE stock and resigned a half-hour later to become CEO at Intuit intu But CEO Jack Welch called Bennett's home to thank him for 23 years of service. "I still love GE," Bennett says. "When people leave for the right reasons, that's part of life."

"There weren't any tears shed," says former Baxter vice president Tony White, who left in 1995 to become CEO of Applera. "I was qualified and ready to be CEO, but there was tension and for style differences, I wasn't going to get it (at Baxter). There was some relief that I moved on."

Bittersweet losses are not unique to major corporations. Young, bright assistant professors often get hired away, says Harvard Business School professor Joseph Bower, author of The CEO Within. But the recruitment only makes Harvard more attractive. As with companies, a line forms with top applicants every time someone goes out the door.

"We obviously don't want to lose great people," says Yum Brands CEO David Novak, a PepsiCo pep alumnus. But when a Yum executive leaves for an opportunity, such as Sears Holdings shld CEO Aylwin Lewis or Bob Evans Farms bobe CEO Steven Davis, "We're very proud," Novak says. "I'd much rather have a place known for developing people."

Textron txt, a conglomerate like GE, wants to establish itself as "the premier multi-industry company," says CEO Lewis Campbell, a General Motors alumni. Keeping talent is a priority, but "as we move closer to realizing our vision, I expect other companies will go to great lengths to recruit our best people. In a way, it is an indication that we are considered to be among the best of the best."

Wilbur "Bill" Gantz, chairman of Ovation Pharmaceuticals, worked 25 years at Baxter. Good people leave, he says. "You've just got to say 'God speed, good luck,' " Gantz says.

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