A new CEO often has big shoes to fill: Just ask Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s successor Kevin Johnson as he takes over the helm this year. But if there isn’t a clear successor, a company will look further afield to find a new leader (think: David Sacks at Zenefits, or Paula Schneider at American Apparel).
But why do some outside CEOs fail at their new companies while others succeed?
Researchers at Arizona State University wanted to see if board diversity played a role in a new outside CEO’s success. ASU’s research team studied 188 cases where an executive was brought in to lead a Fortune 500 company between 1994 and 2007. Each of those companies’ boards were assessed for seven diversity factors including education level, functional area of expertise, industry background, and whether there was any members with an Ivy League background.
The research revealed that when the new board is more diverse than the leader’s former one, the CEO did not always meet success expectations. According to the study, a CEO had only a 3.6% greater chance of leaving the new company within three years if the diversity measures were about the same between former and current boards. And the odds that a board member will resign were only 6.9% higher when the diversity measures were about the same between the CEO’s present and previous boards.
Therefore, the researchers concluded that managing diverse teams is a necessary skill to succeed as an incoming CEO. They recommend developing that strength by both reporting to diverse teams and working on cross-functional ones, as well as serving on a more diverse board themselves.