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Dozens of seafood CEOs have left in the past two years. That should be a wake up call

Who will be tomorrow's leaders? Nobody seems to know.

If you're just coming back from your holidays, you may find your list of contacts needs some updating.

In the past week alone, top executives from three of the world's largest companies have exited. That caps a series of exits this year, and follows a huge year of goodbyes in 2018.

The reasons behind the departures have been varied, but the implications are all the same: they've left big holes to fill.

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So far, the replacements have been, frankly, uninspired. It doesn't take much imagination to land on Seachill CEO Simon Smith to helm Young's, for example.

Nothing wrong with Smith or his track record, and nothing wrong with promoting from within, but you can only play musical chairs with top seafood executives for so long before you run out of candidates.

The problem will only accelerate. With tech, markets and consumer trends changing literally day to day, the need for fresh ideas has never been more pressing.

Seafood companies are aware of the problem. In a recent IntraFish survey, 40.8 percent of the more than 300 top executives we spoke with listed "finding qualified staff" as one of their three most pressing concerns -- that beat out raw material costs, retail price pressure and regulations.

It goes without saying that not enough is being done to hire, train and promote talented people. A quick look at the list of the world's largest seafood companies will show you that most have been with their companies for decades -- and quite often are founders. Very few top executives are under the age of 50.

And as we've pointed out in our Women in Seafood summits, you'll only see a handful of women at the top of the list (it's actually generous to call it a handful).

I'm not knocking experience -- of course that's critical. But all good journeys come to an end, and responsible leaders should be looking at who will take the wheel. If this week is any indication, it's well past the time to take action.

Don't despair, though -- the industry is increasingly seen as an interesting option for early career executives. Thomas Bakke, the head of executive search agency Seafood People and a former colleague of mine, had some optimistic news.

"We see a lot of candidates who want to engage with our industry, and many of these are extremely talented," he said. "They also seem to find all the positive buzz around our industry very exciting."

Tomorrow's leaders are out there, but if the industry doesn't recognize the urgency and fight to bring the right talent in, it will only get harder to fill up the holes left behind.

Email comments to: drew.cherry@intrafish.com

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