Preference should be given to a new manager within the company


The CEOs of the best companies grow inside the company because they know the field very well and make more profitable investments in innovation.

Of Standard & Poor’s 25 CEOs, three are founders, 21 have been selected from within the company and only one has been recruited from outside. The exception is Alfred Francis Kelly Jr., CEO of Visa, who was recruited from American Express, the same field of business (see attached table).

So the executives of all these best US listed companies are well versed in the field in which their company operates. Such a 100% coincidence cannot be a coincidence, but indicates a telling rule – the knowledge of the company’s manager creates a strong advantage.

Many of the largest companies on the Tallinn Stock Exchange have also chosen a manager from within the company, such as Tallinna Kaubamaja, LHV Grupp and Tallinna Vesi, but the two largest – Tallink Grupp and the Port of Tallinn – have recruited a manager from outside. In the latter case, you can succeed in the long run if the company manager makes the field very clear to himself.

The advantage of knowing the field

In 2018, researchers at the University of Washington, Trey Cummings and Anne Marie K, published a large-scale study which shows that 70% of the CEOs of listed companies recruited between 1992 and 2013 were selected from within the company and that their R&D investments were 5-7% more profitable than companies that recruited managers from outside. In the case of an externally recruited company manager, the profitability of innovation was lower the more the manager of the company was recruited from the distant field of activity and the more the company depended on innovation (R&D intensity). This means that the field manager’s knowledge of the field – technological expertise – determines the company’s innovation advantage.

The same study found that companies that link a manager’s salary to long-term financial performance (paying most of the salary in shares and options) motivate the company’s manager to invest much more in innovation. However, in the case of managers of externally recruited companies, such an effect was lacking, ie the possibility to receive higher remuneration for consistently good financial results did not motivate externally recruited managers to invest more in innovation. This result is not surprising, as a lack of knowledge of the field makes it difficult for a manager to make risky investment decisions and therefore avoids them.

Innovative succession

The conclusion here is obvious – a company CEO should be chosen from within the company, as this increases the likelihood that the company will be successful in innovation. This knowledge also places the creation of succession in a very important place, because successiong is not just a nice thing in itself, but is vital for future innovation. Thus, when selecting middle managers, the potential of candidates to work as a member of the top management in the future should be assessed, and when selecting the latter, their potential to work as a company manager. Should there be a situation where there are several managers with excellent potential in the top management, not all of whom can manage the same company, it is very reasonable for those who leave to choose a company in the same or a similar field.

It is important to understand that knowledge of the field alone is not enough, but that it creates the necessary precondition for much more important – making profitable investment decisions in innovation. That this is a big challenge is shown by the case of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (2000-2014), who was promoted to CEO from within the company and knew the field well, but made a series of bad investment decisions that led to the acquisition of Nokia’s mobile phone business in 2013, when he was finally fired.

When selecting a CEO, it is necessary to assess how profitable investments the candidate has made in his/her previous job. In order to be able to assess this among the succession, innovation must be expected, enabled and recognized by top and middle managers. In this way, every manager should constantly develope, innovate and learn from experience. Of course, a CEO must also have other good leadership qualities, such as excellent leadership skills, etc., but these qualities cannot compensate for the weakness in managing innovation.

Shameless learning

If someone has already made their choice and is running a company in an unfamiliar field, it is wise to thoroughly clarify the company’s field of activity. Firstly, its importance should be acknowledged, secondly, one should not be ashamed to learn and ask ‘stupid’ questions, and thirdly, one should not be ashamed that others are much smarter in the field. However, if learning a field seems hopeless, it is better to go back to your familiar field and hand over the baton smoothly.

Knowledge of the field may not be very important if the company operates in a field where the importance of innovation (research and development) is modest. However, there are fewer and fewer companies of this kind, as the importance of innovation is constantly and widely growing.

Managers of S&P 25 companies 31.12.2019

Company CEO Recruited
1. Microsoft Satya Nadella Inside the company
2. Apple Timothy D. Cook Inside the company
3. Jeffrey P. Bezos Founder
4. Alphabet Sundar Pichai Inside the company
5. Facebook Mark Elliot Zuckerberg Founder
6. Berkshire Hathaway Warren E. Buffett Founder
7. Visa Alfred Francis Kelly Jr. From American Express
8. JPMorgan Chase & Co. James Dimon Inside the company
9. Johnson & Johnson Alex Gorsky Inside the company
10. Mastercard Ajaypal S. Banga Inside the company
11. Procter & Gamble David S. Taylor Inside the company
12. AT&T Randall L. Stephenson Inside the company
13. Bank of America Brian Thomas Moynihan Inside the company
14. Intel Robert H. Swan Inside the company
15. Home Depot Craig A. Menear Inside the company
16. United Health Group David Scott Wichmann Inside the company
17. Coca-Cola James Robert B. Quincey Inside the company
18. Verizon Communications Hans E. Vestberg Inside the company
19. Exxon Mobil Darren W. Woods Inside the company
20. Walt Disney Robert A. Iger * Inside the company
21. Merck & Co. Kenneth C. Frazier Inside the company
22. PepsiCo Ramon Luis Laguarta Inside the company
23. Comcast Brian L. Roberts Inside the company
24. Pfizer Albert Bourla Inside the company
25. Chevron Michael K. Wirth Inside the company

* Robert A. Iger is now chairman of the board of Walt Disney, as the company has been managed by CEO Bob Chapek since February 20, 2020, who was recruited from within the company.

The article was published in Äripäev Online, June, 2020.

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