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CEO Tenure: A Definite Determinant of Company Performance

Editorial Team
31/10/2019 5:07 PM

In an article published by Harvard Business Review, they studied
356 U.S. companies from 2000 to 2010. They measured CEO tenure and calculated
the strength of the firm-employee relationship each year by assessing things
like retirement benefits and layoffs. The strength of the firm-customer
relationship was also assessed by evaluating things like product quality and
safety. The study also measured the magnitude and volatility of stock returns. This
research led them to conclude that for a CEO to be very effective their optimal
tenure length should be 4.8 years.

In a typical
corporate setting, a CEO is analogous to the captain of a ship with the ultimate
authority vested in him by the board of directors of the firm. By virtue of
being in the role of a trustee, a CEO would be expected to make wise decisions that
benefit the firm in the long or short term. Executive tenure is calculated by
the number of years a CEO spends in office in that capacity of a CEO. However,
the length of the tenure varies to a great degree from firm to firm.

The norm is usually that a CEO takes office, begins gaining
knowledge and experience, and is soon launching initiatives that boost the
bottom line. Fast-forward a decade, and the same executive is risk-averse and
slow to adapt to change—and the company’s performance is on the decline. New
research examines the causes of this cycle. It has been discovered that CEO
tenure affects performance through its impact on two groups of
stakeholders—employees and customers—and has different effects on each. The
longer a CEO serves, the more the firm-employee dynamic improves. However, an
extended-term strengthens customer ties only for a time, after which the
relationship weakens and the company’s performance diminishes, no matter how
united and committed the workforce is.

The underlying reasons for the pattern are believed to do with
how CEOs learn. Prior research has shown that different learning styles prevail
at different stages of the CEO life cycle. Early on, when new executives are
getting up to speed, they seek information in diverse ways, turning to both
external and internal company sources. This deepens their relationships with
customers and employees alike. Nonetheless, as CEOs accumulate knowledge and
become entrenched, they rely more on their internal networks for information,
growing less accustomed to market conditions. Due to CEOs having more invested
in the firm, they favor avoiding losses over pursuing gains. Their attachment
to the status quo makes them less responsive to vacillating consumer

These findings have several implications for organizations.
Boards should be watchful for changes in the firm-customer relationship. They
should be aware that long-tenured CEOs may be skilled at employee relations but
less adept at responding to the marketplace; these leaders may be great
motivators but weak strategists, unifying workers around a failing course of
action, for example. Finally, boards should structure incentive plans to draw
heavily on consumer and market metrics in the late stages of their top
executives’ terms. This will motivate CEOs to maintain strong customer relationships
and to continue gathering vital market information firsthand.

The CEO's term can also serve as
a market signal for investors, with high tenure indicating the high credibility
of the CEO certification. Based on agency theory, CEO tenure provides managerial
incentives to maximize corporate value. It is possible that long tenure can
help the CEO develop a high reputation, leading to greater commitment to the
company. However, the CEO who stays on his job for a very long time may be too
secure in their work. Van Ness et al. (2010) in the study in America found that
the average term of office of the board members has a positive and significant
impact on the company performance. Therefore, in conclusion, it is important
that CEOs stay long enough that their impact on the company’s performance can
be noted and they should not be evaluated on the company’s performance after
having left the company.

 Ifeoma is a Business Analytics and Research Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a business management and human resources consulting firm.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ifeoma-obi-92b4b9121/

Phone: +263 242 481946-48/481950

Mobile: +263 775 187 283

Email: ifeoma@ipcconsultants.com


Editorial Team

This article was written by one of the consultants at IPC

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