Transition Management Consulting, Inc.

Time's Up! Knowing When to Leave or How to Stay

by Robert T. Van Hook, CAE | Jul 22, 2014
In 2010, TMC conducted a survey of CESSE member CEOs to ascertain information about their tenure and when they expected to leave. The respondents also told us what they thought were the clues for determining when to leave a position or how to keep the work exciting enough to stay.

Speaking to a audience of 100+ CEOs at the CESSE 2010 Winter CEO meeting, Robert Van Hook, Interim CEO, American Geophysical Union, and President, Transition Management Consulting, Inc. presented survey data on executive tenure.

“Sooner or later, every CEO will leave their current organization.  How long is the ‘right’ amount of time for a CEO to remain in a position?  Some say that an executive should only stay for 5-7 years, after that their leadership gets stale. Others say that CEOs should stay in place as long as possible to avoid the disruption that comes with an executive transition. The truth is much more nuanced and based on factors related to the executive, the organization, and the environment,” said Van Hook.

He continued, “The idea for the research was a comment from a recruiter that after about 5 years, many execs start doing what they like to do and not what the organization needs them to do. I was curious if execs believed that to be true from their experience.”

In a survey of 165 CESSE member executives, 91 responded over a 7-day period resulting in a 55.2% response rate.

The survey asked:

  • Is there an optimal time to stay in a CEO position?
  • How long is too long?
  • What clues do you have that it is time to leave?
  • How do long-tenured CEOs stay fresh in their jobs?
  • How can you prepare yourself and your organization for eventual departure?

How does a CEO know when to leave?  What are some of the warning signs?  What do long-tenure CEOs do to remain effective in their positions that differentiates them from other CEOs who depart after a short time?  What can you do to prepare yourself and your organization for your eventual departure?  These are some of the questions to be considered during this session.

“The important thing is for the CEO to recognize when it is time to leave, and failing that, for the governing board to recognize it and be strong enough to provide for a graceful transition.”