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The CEO switch: Tracking local succession-planning stories

ceo successionWith Steve Jobs’ resignation as Apple CEO still a hot topic from radio waves to water coolers to message boards.  And in addition to the human tragedy of Jobs’ health issues and the need to withdraw from the job he loves at a comparatively young age, the topic of corporate governance and succession planning is au courant and ripe for localizing.

I suggested in a previous blog post several strategies you can use to analyze local senior management changes and how they might affect the direction of major local employers and others on your beat.  Talk with local management consultants, business professors, turnaround consultants and marketing gurus:  Who are some of your region’s iconic business figures, and what would happen to their companies if they were forced to step down?  Having a visionary at the helm is an asset but also a liability, if the company becomes too densely entwined with executives’ persona and perceived personal agenda or skills.  Think Martha Stewart, or Walt Disney, or Oprah Winfrey.

A multimedia or alternative storytelling round-up of local charismatic leaders, their strengths and weaknesses and likely successors would be a great talker or weekend feature.  In addition to publicly traded or large companies, be sure to consider sports franchises, restaurants and other local landmarks.  Think about the service companies whose ads are part of your community fabric – I bet there’s a window-replacement firm, a car dealer, a local bistro or other household-name business whose CEO has made herself or himself part of the company’s identity.  What happens when they fade out?

Also, as fate would have it, a number of reports released this week may help you generate story ideas or interview questions for executives and officers on your beat. (Don’t overlook this news peg as an opportunity to seek out corporate directors; even if they won’t open up too much about the companies they govern, they may be good sources of industry or management insight.  The relationships are worth cultivating now so you can reach key players later when news warrants.)

The National Association of Corporate Directors is just out this week with its 2011 NACD Public Governance Survey.The non-profit professional group talked with board members at 1,300 companies and also reviewed thousands of proxy statements on a variety of topis; research manager Kurt Groeninger told me that while the full report is offered for sale on the NACD site, the company will share data free of charge with journalists upon request.  He sent over the findings related to succession planning; the study indicates that about a third of boards have formal plans while a small majority does not.  Sixty-four percent of mega- and large-cap companies have formal plans, while many smaller companies have no plan at all.  Of those with plans, 74 percent have a notion of how to replace the CEO in case of emergency, and a little more than half of plans identify an interim CEO.

Again, you can use the findings of reports like this to add context to corporate governance stories, but you also can peruse them to see what questions professional analysts are asking and help devise your own interview plans.

Other new reports include one from Challenger, Gray & Christmas noting that CEO turnover was down in July after reaching a 13-month peak in June; the Chicago-based consulting firm also reported Thursday that as of July, 64 computer-industry CEOs had left their companies, compared to 50 last year.  Challenger, Gray unfortunately doesn’t provide URL links to its press releases but you can find them at the site and their PR staff is generally pretty responsive to request for data and analysis.

The Association of Executive Search consultants reported earlier this month that demand for “C-suite talent” is on the rise, with executive search orders rising 8 percent year over year in the second quarter of 2011.  The group says its full report is available on request by the media and offers analysis; try finding local members of the organization to get a regional view of senior management turnover and what it says about your local economy, business climate and industry growth.

In Beats, Featured, Manufacturing | Large companies, Story ideas.

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