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Harv Bus Rev. 2005 Feb;83(2):72-81, 147.

Ending the CEO succession crisis.


The CEO succession process is broken. Many companies have no meaningful succession plans, and few of the ones that do are happy with them. CEO tenure is shrinking; in fact, two out of five CEOs fail in their first 18 months. It isn't just that more CEOs are being replaced; it's that they're being replaced badly. The problems extend to every aspect of CEO succession: internal development programs, board supervision, and outside recruitment. While many organizations do a decent job of nurturing middle managers, few have set up the comprehensive programs needed to find the half-dozen true CEO candidates out of the thousands of leaders in their midst. Even more damaging is the failure of boards to devote enough attention to succession. Search committee members often have no experience hiring CEOs; lacking guidance, they supply either the narrowest or the most general of requirements and then fail to vet eitherthe candidates or the recruiters. The result is that too often new CEOs are plucked from the well-worn Rolodexes of a remarkably small number of recruiters. These candidates may be strong in charisma but may lack critical skills or otherwise be a bad fit with the company. The resulting high turnover is particularly damaging, since outside CEOs often bring in their own teams, can cause the company to lose focus, and are especially costly to be rid of. Drawing on over 35 years of experience with CEO succession, the author explains how companies can create a deep pool of internal candidates, how boards can consistently align strategy and leadership development, and how directors can get their money's worth from recruiters. Choosing a CEO should be not one decision but an amalgam ofthousands of decisions made by many people every day over years.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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