Seven Myths of CEO Succession

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Myth #6: Boards prefer internal candidates. "While, ultimately, three-quarters of newly appointed CEOs are internal executives, external candidates still hold a strong appeal for boards – especially at the start of a search," says Mr. Miles. "Often boards aren't given enough exposure to internal candidates, and directors are often nervous about giving an 'untested' executive the full reins of a company. There is a still-prevalent bias against promoting the insider 'junior executive' to the top spot one day. So, while the 'myth' may end up mostly true in the end, there is often a long journey of getting the board to that decision."

The CEO's departure is, sooner or later, inevitable – but are companies prepared for it?

With CEOs turning over at a rate of 10 to 15 percent per year – from jumping to another firm to resigning due to poor health or poor performance, or just retiring – companies would be expected to be well-prepared for CEO succession. But governance experts from Stanford and The Miles Group have found a number of broad misunderstandings about CEO transitions and how ready the board is for this major change.

In their recent piece for the Stanford Closer Look Series, David Larcker and Brian Tayan of the Corporate Governance Research Initiative at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Stephen Miles of The Miles Group name seven myths around CEO succession – myths shared by corporate boards as well as the larger business community.

"The selection of the CEO is the single most important decision a board of directors can make," say the authors, but turmoil around these decisions at the top "have called into question the reliability of the process that companies use to identify and develop future leaders."

 

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