Booz & Company Chief Executive Study Finds Steep Rise in Planned CEO Turnovers as Companies Take Active Control of Their CEO Succession Planning

Shanghai, 18 April 2013—Leading global management consulting firm Booz & Company today announced the results of this year’s Chief Executive Study, finding the highest share ever of planned CEO successions.

“During the economic crisis, boards took a reactive approach to CEO turnover and postponed CEO transitions. Now they are actively planning CEO successions—companies are looking to build on the stability of a stronger economy and move forward with needed changes,” said Gary L. Neilson, Booz & Company senior partner and coauthor of the study. “Planned turnovers are at the highest rate ever, and insider CEOs make up the majority of new CEOs, indicating companies are taking a more thoughtful approach to ensure the right leaders are in place.”

The annual study of CEO changes at the largest 2,500 public companies in the world, revealed that the CEO turnover rate in 2012 was 15 percent—the second-highest since 2000, lower only than in 2005. In China, the 2012 turnover rate increased 47.2 percent compared with 2007–11, from 5.5 percent to 8.1 percent. Furthermore, companies are actively planning their CEO successions: The share of planned turnovers, at 72 percent of all turnover events, is the highest in the 13-year history of the study, indicating that companies are seeking to build on the leadership stability most have enjoyed with the improved economy.

The Booz & Company study examined the rate of, reason for, and geographic and industry distribution of chief executive changes among the world’s 2,500 largest public companies. This year’s report, Time for new CEOs: The 2012 chief executive study focused particularly on who the new leaders are and where they came from.

Key Findings

  • Companies are becoming more proactive about the CEO succession process. Companies are now planning carefully to ensure they have the leaders they need. Planned successions made up 72 percent of all 2012 successions (up from 69 percent in 2011), and forced turnovers were at 19 percent, their second-lowest share ever. This shift indicates that companies are now able to take a more thoughtful approach to transitions.
  • The proportion of female CEOs saw a slight increase in 2012. Only 5 percent, or 15, of the incoming class of CEOs in 2012 were women—which is a notable rise from the 3 percent average over the prior three years, but still only a tiny share.
  • The “Global CEO” is more of a myth than a reality. Most companies seem to be seeking familiarity in their new CEOs. In 2012, 71 percent of new CEOs were insiders—people promoted from within. Chinese companies promoted the 64 percent of insiders. Companies also tended to hire leaders native to their company’s headquarters country; 81 percent of companies hired CEOs from the company headquarters country and an additional 9 percent hired CEOs from a different country but the same region as headquarters. Chinese companies least often hired CEOs with global working experience in 2012, only 15 percent did so. Additionally, this year’s study found that 25 percent of new CEOs had worked at only one company for their whole career.

“When hiring new CEOs with global work experience, Western European companies stood out in 2012, with 60 percent hiring CEOs who have experience in regions outside their company’s headquarters. In addition, 67 percent of newcomer CEOs who are Western Europeans had global working experience,” said Per-Ola Karlsson, Booz & Company senior partner and coauthor of the study. “It’s interesting to note, Western Europe is the only region that supplied new CEOs to all other regions.”

Other Findings

Companies in Brazil, Russia, and India had the highest increase in turnover rates in 2012.

  • In 2012, CEO turnover rates increased from the average turnover rates over the prior five years (2007–11) in every region except Japan. The increase was highest in Brazil, Russia, and India, where turnover increased by 55 percent, from 15.4 percent in 2007–11 to 23.9 percent in 2012.
  • Although companies in Western European countries did see an increase in their turnover rate, they had the lowest increase of any region outside Japan. Turnover in Western Europe increased by 3.5 percent, from 14.2 percent in 2007–11 to 14.7 percent in 2012.

Most new CEOs don’t have MBAs.

  • All but one of the new CEOs in 2012 held an undergraduate degree, but few had gone on to get an MBA or Ph.D. Only 29 percent of the new CEO class in 2012 had an MBA, and 9 percent a Ph.D. However, having an MBA may slightly accelerate the career path of a CEO, as the median age of incoming CEOs in 2012 with an MBA was 52, just slightly lower than the median age of CEOs without, which was 54.
  • Companies in different regions hired new CEOs with MBAs at very different rates. 23 percent of new CEOs in 2012 at companies headquartered in China have an MBA.

Sarah Butler, Booz & Company Managing Director of Greater China, concluded, “The path to becoming CEO doesn’t just involve checking off boxes. As is evident from our study, incoming CEOs aren’t required to earn advanced degrees or gain global experience. Becoming a CEO is more about taking the time to develop the skills needed to grow a company and lead it well into the future.”

The full report can be downloaded by visiting the Booz & Company website


About the Booz & Company 2012 Chief Executive Study
This year’s Chief Executive Study identified the world’s 2,500 largest public companies, defined by their market capitalization according to Bloomberg on January 1, 2012. Our research team members then identified the subset of those companies that had replaced their chief executive, and cross-checked the data using a wide variety of printed and electronic sources in many languages. We also used Bloomberg to determine which companies had been acquired or merged in 2012.

We then further investigated each company that appeared to have changed its CEO for confirmation that a change had occurred in 2012, and sought out additional details—title, tenure, chairmanship, nationality, professional experience, and so on—on both the outgoing and incoming chief executives, as well as any interim chief executives.

We accepted the information provided by the companies themselves on most data elements, except the reason for the succession. Booz & Company consultants worldwide separately validated each succession event as part of the effort to learn the reason for specific CEO changes in their region.

To distinguish between mature and emerging economies, Booz & Company followed the United Nations Development Programme 2012 ranking.

About Booz & Company
Booz & Company ( is a leading global management consulting firm focused on serving and shaping the senior agenda of the world’s leading institutions. Drawing on the talents and insights of more than 3,000 people in 58 offices around the world, we help our clients achieve essential advantage by working with them to identify and build the differentiating capabilities they need to outperform.

About Strategy&

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