Succession Planning

      Succession Executive Search and Succession Planning

      Ensuring a Successful Executive Transition

      Succession executive search and succession planning is the board’s fiduciary responsibility to assure that shareholders/members continue to receive an uninterrupted and undiminished flow of value-driven products and services in the event of a planned or unplanned leadership transition.

      We work with leading organizations across the private and public sectors. Our scale, scope, and knowledge allow us to address problems that no one else can. We have deep strategic industry expertise as well as geographical reach, and we are passionate about taking on immense challenges that matter to our clients and their stakeholders.

      Your legacy is at stake, no business is too big or too small to plan for the future, and there is no time like the present to get started. – Shawn Cole, President

      The transition from one CEO to another is a critical moment in an organization’s history. A properly designed and executed succession plan is at the center of any successful transition.

      CEO Vacancies can be Planned or Unplanned

      In either scenario, by the time a succession plan is needed, it is far too late to start building one. Because of this, it is the responsibility of the board to make succession planning an annual priority, even in the face of more immediate and tangible issues. In addition to being necessary for risk mitigation, succession planning brings with it several beneficial byproducts:

      It provides a framework that drives senior executive development, aligning leadership at the top of the enterprise with the strategic needs of the organization.

      It gives the CEO, through an ongoing analysis of the job requirements, the opportunity to adjust his or her role in light of changing business conditions and strategic imperatives.

      It strengthens the relationship and information flow between the board and the senior management team through the regular contact that is part of the board’s review of candidates.

      Establishing the Foundation

      Succession planning is usually directed by the board or board subcommittees. The current CEO’s involvement varies (depending on whether the succession is planned or unplanned) with the primary responsibility being the development of internal candidates. The Lead Director often acts as the single point of contact between the board and the sitting CEO on succession matters.

      Involve the Current CEO as Much as Possible

      CEO’s have a critical contribution to make in an effective CEO succession planning process. By encouraging the board to start planning early, overseeing a robust executive development program that produces succession-ready executives, stepping back at the appropriate time, and giving internal candidates the room and experiences they need to grow, the CEO will play a vital role in developing and sustaining a strong leadership team — as well as producing viable successor candidates. Keeping that legacy in mind may help CEO’s manage the personal and professional challenges they are likely to encounter throughout the process and during the transition. Is your CEO mentoring leaders of the future?


      Create a Written Executive Succession Plan

      This document should detail how the organization’s officers are elected and replaced, how successors are to be chosen, and the respective roles of the CEO, the board, and the various board committees in the succession process. Emergency succession procedures, in the case of sudden death or vacancy, are also included. Agreeing on these elements before there is a need to implement them helps ensure an orderly, deliberate transition while avoiding uncertainty and destabilizing political maneuvering.

      Conduct Regular, In-Depth Reviews

      The entire board, together with a senior human resources executive, should review the succession plan at least once a year, including an examination of the relevant bylaws and succession procedures and a review of the baseline capabilities requirements for the next CEO—a working document that summarizes what these requirements would be if the search for a new CEO were held today.

      To determine those requirements, the board should begin by examining the organization’s direction and strategy over a five to fifteen year time period, factoring in the impact of various scenarios such as how the organization will be affected by challenges including globalization, changing customer demographics, evolving competition and digitalization, or the risks and opportunities brought by changing climate and global health conditions. Looking at the impact of broad trends such as these helps ensure that the organization’s next leader will have the capabilities and experience necessary to respond to unfolding complex events across numerous fronts.

      The board then distills these considerations into a set of required capabilities. Based on the organization’s situation and strategic direction; some capabilities will be deemed essential and others of secondary or little importance. – Shawn Cole, President

      Where do CEO’s Come From?

      CEO’s come from two primary sources: internal candidates who have been groomed as possible CEO successors, and external candidates who are recruited from a national pool of talented professionals. It is wise to keep both options open in order to maximize the success of CEO succession planning. The internal candidate pool is typically comprised of C-Suite candidates, COO, CCO, CLO, CFO, etc. The board should be briefed annually and have regular exposure to internal candidates through board presentations, field observations, and site visits.

      Implementing the Plan:

      Approximately one year before the planned transition, the full board should meet to implement the succession plan. The CEO competency list should be given a final review and revised as necessary. The board should then implement a thorough assessment of the finalist candidates, including:

       In-depth competency-focused interviews that probe for the skills and talents essential for the role.

       360° referencing that provides added insight from superiors, industry peers, colleagues and direct reports.

       Online psychometric testing, interpreted by an in-house psychologist, which gives shape to intangible qualities.

      Measure Internal Candidates Against their Peers at Other Organizations

      This will ensure the organization is choosing the best CEO available, rather than merely the best choice from within its own ranks.

      The customary approach is to turn to independent senior search consultants, who then identify the most appropriate candidates in the marketplace. This list often includes not only candidates from within the industry, but those from adjacent industries as well, to ensure that all of the best candidates are being considered. Based on this information and the many other data points which have been amassed during the assessment period, internal candidates and the external benchmark candidates are given numerical rankings across the various required competencies.

      The Successful Executive Transition

      Once a final candidate has been selected, it is critical that a thorough transition plan be developed so that the new CEO has the benefit of a strong start. A solid transition spans a full year, and contains five phases.

      1. Begin intensive knowledge sharing. The outgoing and incoming CEO meet frequentlyfor in-depth discussion regarding the operating styles, histories, and expectations of board members and senior management, as well as other stakeholder constituencies including creditors, customers, analysts, and regulators. At various points, individual members of the senior management team are included in the discussion. Third-party interviews can help prevent the biasing of information.
      1. Communicate with stakeholders. Following this briefing period, the incoming CEOshould be introduced to the organization’s stakeholders in a series of informationgathering sessions. This allows the outgoing CEO to gracefully pass the baton and for the incoming CEO to build support and good will with various key players, especially those he or she has not dealt with before.
      1. Develop a written transition plan. With the involvement and support of the seniormanagement team, a detailed timeline is then developed to provide the orderly transition of roles and responsibilities. If the appointment is an internal promotion, this includes the elevation of the executive who takes over the new CEO’s former position. If the outgoing CEO is remaining as Chairman, that role needs to be clearly defined so as to not interfere with the new CEO.


      1. Share the transition plan. The plan needs to be effectively communicated internally andexternally to project a sense of stability and positive perspective. Appropriate recognition of the outgoing CEO is an important component; failing to show appreciation for an outgoing leader’s legitimate accomplishments risks alienating his or her supporters in the organization and on the board.
      1. Strengthen relationships with the board. Even if the new CEO is known to the board, itis important that they begin to relate to him or her in the new role through one-on-one meetings. If the new CEO is appointed from within, he or she can begin to be phased into board meetings over a period of time. To the extent possible, the outgoing CEO should provide coaching and feedback to his or her successor throughout the process.

      Succession Planning: The Board’s Ultimate Responsibility

      Managing the CEO succession process is ultimately the board’s fiduciary responsibility to the organization. A regularly reviewed and closely followed succession plan is essential to successfully exercise that responsibility. The costs of shortchanging this process are easy to see when organizations are caught off-guard by events. The payoff is reflected in the organization’s momentum as it moves from one leader to the next. In addition, ongoing succession planning helps the board to be better informed and aligns the development of the senior management team with the strategic needs of the organization. Beyond its usefulness in risk mitigation, CEO succession planning contributes to the successful governance and management of the organization long before a successor is needed.

      About Cowen Partners | Executive Search + Consulting:

      Cowen Partners supports executive leaders and boards in the pursuit of exceptional talent. Having seen every aspect of the hiring process as managers, business owners and sales leaders, we focus on delivering standout candidates for executive and leadership positions across the country. No matter what industry you’re in, when we work for you, we focus on precision.

      This includes doing the quiet, behind-the scenes work necessary to bring you the right mix of qualified candidates. Our laser focus is one of the main reasons clients call back when new positions open in their organizations. Our model is built on due diligence, process, critical review, and teamwork. Working this way allows us to extend our reach across the country to connect experts with experts, and help shape the way companies and professionals grow.

      To date, we have successfully placed hundreds of candidates in industries such as technology, manufacturing, real estate, healthcare, logistics, media, and finance.

      National Executive Search and Consulting Firm

      If you want to learn more about our succession executive services, check out our industry-leading resources to see why Cowen Partners is a 5-star executive search firm in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Los Angeles, and beyond:

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