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In order to examine how boards define “success” in CEO succession, we interviewed 22 members of Fortune 200 boards (as well as some smaller boards), who sat on over 100 combined boards, about their experiences with CEO succession as board members. Of the CEO successions of which they had been a part, we found that unplanned successions were more likely to fail than planned ones, but surprisingly, that internal successions were at least as likely as external ones to fail. We found that they tend to take longer to conclude a CEO is a failure than a success, and that they use more qualitative metrics than might be expected in their evaluation. In terms of process, we found that practices for success in managing CEO succession include: starting the process early, correctly defining the role’s specifications, and gathering as much information as possible about CEO successor candidates. Finally, some board members discussed the causes of CEO failure, and many described failed CEOs as those who displayed excessive egos, failed to listen to others, and eschewed feedback. In short, failure was often associated with personality problems rather than competence issues.

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© 2016, University of South Carolina

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