The process, and what the World Bank’s Board needs to do first

Although the speculation has already started about possible candidates to replace Robert Zoellick, and he and his surrogates are already trying to reframe his 4 1/2 years at the Bank, it’s important to remember what the process is.

PIMCO’s Mohamed el-Irian, hardly a disinterested observer, rightly points out in a February 17 Washington Post op-ed that whoever is chosen will have more legitimacy if the Board undertakes appropriate due diligence and a transparent, maybe even public process.  Little is to be served by having public interviews, but his points about due diligence and reference checking on the candidates’ management record are well-taken.

Alas, that may not be the case.  In an April 2011 document, a World Bank Board working group proposed the following criteria

  • “a proven track record of leadership
  • experience managing large organizations with international exposure, and a familiarity with the public sector
  • ability to articulate a clear vision of the Bank’s development mission
  • a firm commitment to and appreciation for multilateral cooperation, and
  • effective and diplomatic communication skills, impartiality and objectivity”

“Management effectiveness” does not appear on this list.  However various journalists have attempted over the last 48 hours to commemorate Robert Zoellick’s tenure, the need for strong, modern management to pull together a team largely of Zoellick’s choosing is one serious issue the Bank and its owners need to address in picking his successor. And evaluating the performance of the president and the management team is something that all effective organizations do.

Benchmarked against the modern World Bank’s two most effective leaders, Robert McNamara and James Wolfensohn, all candidates need the emotional intelligence, gravitas and persuasion skills that mark two of the Bank’s most impressive periods.

Can the owners of the Bank make that happen?