Repost: How Willy Wonka’s Case Study in Succession Planning

(This is a repost from 2 years ago, after recently finishing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory yet again for the girls (I think we’re on 16 now)- this time the twins understood it.)

The Situation

Mr. Willy Wonka is a first generation business leader who has recognized the lack of a succession plan for his CEO/Chief Inventor position.  The business specializes in specialty and novelty confections and currently retains a market leading position through innovation in chocolates and candy, with some miraculous results (examples include chocolate ice cream that will not melt, chewing gum that does not lose its taste,  and Everlasting Gobstoppers).

Mr. Wonka enjoys an excellent labor position in a non-union factory, and has (inexplicably) been exempted from all UK labor laws and health inspections.  Costs for labor are limited to cocoa beans given to his staff in unlimited quantities (this author suspects Google’s free food policy was derived from Wonka’s, but with better stock options).  The company has come under constant questioning as to the legality of detaining an entire population of Oompa Loompas to execute on corporate strategy; Mr. Wonka has thus far avoided governmental scrutiny in this regard.

While each major competitor in the confection space has offered to acquire the company, Mr. Wonka has remained steadfast in his desire to keep his company independent and to work towards a focused mission within the candy world. Espionage had been a problem until recently, when severe visitation restrictions were imposed.

Succession Plan Considerations

At first, Mr. Wonka considered an external experienced hire. Being that he is the sole human working at the company, this was a logical first step.  After evaluating the available external talent pool, Mr. Wonka ruled out an external experienced hire. Mr Wonka said,

“there are thousands of clever men who would give anything for the chance to come in and take over from me, but  I won’t want that sort of person… [The external hire] won’t listen to me; he won’t learn. He[ or she ] will try to do things his own way, not mine.” (p151)

While Mr. Wonka seriously considered hiring from within, the height restrictions alone with existing staff would not allow for full use of the Great Glass Elevator during the normal course of business.

When looking for his successor, Mr. Wonka’s primary concern was to sustain its competitive advantage through innovation. This could not be an in-the-box thinker. He needed someone who could not only think outside of the box, but to dream of a way to make that box taste yummy, and eat it whole. In meeting with his internal team, it was clear that a novel succession planning solution was needed.

Selection Methodology

After examining existing methodologies for the selection, interviewing, and naming his successor, Mr. Wonka decided on a somewhat irregular approach, however, one that fit within his employment brand. He decided to find a set of High Potential candidates through a competitive selection process including, “Golden Tickets”. Being somewhat of a showman, Mr. Wonka turned this phase of the selection into a concurrent marketing campaign that sold an incremental 100 million Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight Chocolate bars.  (This technique was then used by other companies.)

After a set of high potential recruits was selected. Mr. Wonka assessed each individual through a series of physical and personality assessments in which Mr. Wonka hoped to determine if the hi-po had the ability to think magically, and the sense to not be sucked up into giant pneumatic tubes of chocolate within the first ten minutes of entering the manufacturing floor.


By process of elimination, remarkably, a candidate was chosen with the intellectual abilities required, and the moral fiber Mr. Wonka was looking for. Charles Bucket Esq. was nominated as the successor to the factory, and awarded such honor within the Great Glass Elevator. While the mentorship program is expected to last over 10 years, feedback from Mr. Wonka (in his sequel book) seems to have positively reinforced his succession choice.


Jeremy Shapiro is an executive in HR at a leading financial services firm, working on talent analytics. Formerly a Senior Vice President of the Hodes iQ Talent Management Suite at Bernard Hodes Group and is a co-author of the HR metrics book Ultimate Performance. Jeremy has coached hundreds of companies in recruiting and HR technology solutions across industries and sizes. Jeremy is a frequent speaker and author on HR technology topics and HR Business Intelligence topics, such as SHRM, IHRIM, the Human Capital Institute, and more. He is a frequent contributor to articles and whitepapers on HR Business Intelligence. Jeremy holds a Masters of Science in Information Systems from NYU and a B.A in Economics from Rutgers University. Specific topics of research include HR metrics, talent management technology, and next generation recruiting technologies.

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