I’m off! How do I help my CEO successor settle in?

After eight years at the helm and 70 hour weeks, I’m out of here next month! I’m off to an eco-resort for a long holiday before hitting the golf course.


The board want to make sure my successor has the best start she can (so do I as I have shares in the company.)


How do I make sure the transition is smooth, especially because some of my staff are already unsettled at me going? Is the best idea to just get out of the way? I know my successor quite well and she will be very capable.

Eat your heart out,


Dear Eat Your Heart Out,

FYI, I have no desire to be at an eco-resort because I am having too much fun breathing in the daily fumes from the coal face. Congratulations though on your stint at the helm, as it sounds like it has gone well.

Your intentions are good, but I have to warn you. For some reason incoming CEOs do not often seek the advice of the departing leader.

In its January issue, Harvard Business Review conducted lots of interviews on transitioning CEOs, and found that the big opportunity for the incoming CEO is to be told by the departing CEO where they might get into trouble. As one veteran CEO says: “The former CEO can tell you which are the load bearing walls.”

The article also has some great tips in an article called “The last act of a great CEO”. Get a copy, but I will briefly summarise.

One suggestion is you start with an agenda covering five key topics:

The current C suit: What are informal agreements between senior executives? What development goals exist for them? Who among them can be counted on to tell the truth or the bad news?

In progress initiatives: Which are the most vital and why? What could be done on them next? What could be halted?

Leadership imperatives: What type of leadership is needed? What cultural change is needed?

Lessons learnt: What problems did the departing CEO encounter early on? How might similar problems be headed off/what are other possible problems?

Governance: What are the dynamics among board members? What are the pros and cons of how meetings are conducted? What are the characteristics of specific members and what traits might be needed in future members? Who are the major investors, allies, and partners and what are their concerns and goals?

And here is some advice for your last 100 days (you’re a fast worker so squash it into a month.)

  • Yield the stage: Let your successor quickly become the public persona.
  • Keep a few projects: Not involving online responsibility.
  • Leave your ego behind.
  • Close the complaint compartment: Don’t criticise the new leader’s decisions.
  • Take some heat and accept some responsibility for the challenges your successor faces.
  • Endorse change and acknowledge that your successor might do some things differently.
  • Set a time to go, stick to it, and enjoy your vacation!


Good luck!


Your Aunty B.


Aunty B - Your problems answered by SmartCompany's business bitch

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