How do you minimize volatility in your company's shares after announcing the departure of your chairman and CEO -- a 41-year company veteran who's presided over market-crushing returns since taking on the reins, to boot? You do it by making the announcement nearly a year in advance.

That's what Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) did yesterday morning. The No. 2 home-improvement retailer announced that Robert Niblock will take over for Robert Tillman as chairman and CEO at the end of the fiscal year. (The switch, for those of you marking your calendars, is scheduled for January 2005.) Niblock, currently the company's president and formerly its CFO, joined Lowe's in 1993 and earned his current post some 10 years later.

It'll be tough saying goodbye to Tillman, a well-regarded executive whom BusinessWeek called an effective and innovating corporate leader in a 2003 feature. He famously came up through Lowe's management ranks after dropping out of college. Now, he presides over a company with a market capitalization upward of $43 billion. Further, he's had a very respectable run against the S&P 500 and massive competitor Home Depot (NYSE:HD) during his time at the top. (W.D. Crotty recently discussed the strength of Lowe's business.)

Losing such a pivotal person is never easy, but Lowe's has given investors reason to cheer by making the transition as smooth as possible. In this case, Lowe's can ensure investors (as well as customers, suppliers, and employees) that Niblock (who Tillman reportedly said is capable of taking over immediately) and the company have a succession plan in place and the transition will be meticulously handled.

There's even time now for stockholders to pipe up in person at the company's annual meeting, scheduled for May 28. All in all, Lowe's has taken a simple step -- but one not to be taken for granted.

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Fool contributor Dave Marino-Nachison doesn't own any of the companies in this story.