Advice for Boards in CEO Selection and Succession Planning
The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation 2012-06-11
Selecting the chief executive officer and planning for CEO succession are among the most important responsibilities of a company’s board of directors. In ideal circumstances, the succession process will be managed by a successful and trusted incumbent CEO, with the board or a board committee overseeing the process, reviewing the candidates and providing advice throughout. However, in exceptional circumstances, such as when the board lacks full confidence in the incumbent CEO or when a crisis occurs and the normal succession process cannot be utilized, the board will need to take the lead in managing this crucial task. The challenge of CEO turnover is one that boards may face more often than they would like. One source estimates that 40 percent of new CEOs depart within 18 months of their appointment, while 64 percent depart within four years.  Nor is the transition inexpensive: The cost of replacing a CEO can range from several million dollars for small-cap firms to tens of millions of dollars for large-cap firms. 
In 2011, the CEO turnover rate increased as compared to the previous two years.  High-profile resignations and hirings occurred at household-name corporations such as Hewlett-Packard, PG&E, Yahoo!, Costco, and Sara Lee. With the recent publicity surrounding the resignation earlier this month of Yahoo! chief executive Scott Thompson, CEO selection and succession issues have come once again to the fore. Directors facing these challenges should keep in mind that the attitude and smooth functioning of the board are crucial to a sound process and good result, and that the fates of the board and its chosen CEO often are inextricably entwined.