CEO Transitions

Defining Success in the First 12 Months
An original research study with 200+ CEOs globally


What does it really take to succeed as a new CEO?

For a CEO, the first year in role is perhaps the most testing and revealing. After the pressure and excitement of the succession or appointment process, the real work begins.

Now people see how good a CEO truly is (or isn’t). The expectation is never higher, the learning curve never steeper.

But how is success defined for a new CEO in their first year? What should new CEOs prioritize—and by when? What does CEO transition success really look like?

We set out to understand how CEOs successfully navigated their transition—through qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys with CEOs who are 12-18 months into their role.

Here, we set out:

  • What new CEOs do first—and by when.
  • What surprised new CEOs most during transition.
  • The things only a CEO can do.
  • Their top regrets and what they would have done differently.

Our hope is that the lessons within help accelerate the success of the next generation of CEOs—and the organizations they lead.


CEO transitions: What do new CEOs do first?




New CEOs’ top priority is meeting, assessing, and hiring their senior leadership team


A new CEO arrives on Day One with a huge weight of expectation on their shoulders—from the board, investors, and employees.

One of the most immediate challenges they will face is how to spend their time. What needs immediate attention? What can wait?

Our research was unequivocal: the number one priority of new CEOs is their Senior Leadership Team (SLT), cited as the top focus area by 52% of new CEOs.

But we found that various factors influenced how quickly a CEO moves on their team. To discover more about typical SLT milestones and lessons for success, download our full report.

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Being a new CEO: The things that only a CEO can do



of new CEOs said culture was something that only a CEO can do



It is not up to new CEOs to play every position on the court. Instead, it’s critical that new CEOs focus on the things that only they can (and should) do. This is often easier said than done.

The constant challenge many CEOs struggle with every day is resisting getting dragged into tasks, work, and projects that do not fall under the umbrella of the unique contribution of the CEO.

Discover the five responsibilities that our CEO respondents told us were under the sole purview of the CEO.

Read more in our full report



CEO transitions: New CEO surprises

No one is ever completely ready to become a CEO—even if they have spent weeks, months, or even years preparing for the role. Understanding this, we explored what surprised CEOs the most during their transition.

The aggregated responses fell into two broad categories: outward factors, which relate to the company or situation in which they were operating; and inward factors, which relate to the actions and reactions of the CEOs.

Read more in our full report


New CEO regrets: What new CEOs would do differently

Finally, we asked new CEOs to reflect on their first 12 months and, if they had their time again, would they do anything differently? They say the rear window is always clearer than the front one, and with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see a number of common themes.

Read more in our full report




RRA Advisors on CEO Transitions – Video series


To lift the curtain on CEO transitions, we completed 35 interviews with CEOs in their first 12-18 months in role. These interviews provided opportunity for the CEOs to reflect on their experience and share the lessons learned. To complement this qualitative assessment, we also collected quantitative data through a survey with 178 CEOs globally.


Download the full research