Survey: Two-thirds of companies irresponsible about CEO succession

98% of executives say succession planning important; 2% should be greeting customers at Walmart

Talk about not walking the walk. Even though a recent survey found virtual unanimity among executives that a CEO succession plan was, you know, sort of a responsible thing for a corporation to create, only slightly more than one in three companies have bothered to put such a plan in place. (Also see: Apple not only company that needs CEO succession plan) The idea of a CEO succession plan has been in the news lately because of the medical leave taken by Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, not to mention a proposal by Apple shareholders that the company's board create such a plan and report on it annually. Apple says it does indeed have a succession plan in place, but opposes publicizing it for competitive reasons. Apple Insider's Sam Oliver flags a December survey by executive search firm Korn/Ferry International which found that 98 percent of 1,318 executives polled in December "regard CEO succession planning as an important piece of the overall corporate governance process." Yet, the survey shows, "only 35 percent of respondents are prepared for either the unexpected or planned departure of their CEO." Despite the high-profile, abrupt departures of chief executives such as Hewlett-Packard's Mark Hurd over the past year, "43 percent of respondents have not increased their attention to succession planning," Korn/Ferry reports. Worse, with the global economy still struggling since a near meltdown in 2008, "nearly half of respondents, 49 percent, have not put a succession plan in place in the last three years." Nice planning, corporations. “Given the number of abrupt, high profile executive departures this year, it’s surprising that more companies are not acting with greater urgency to put a CEO succession plan in place,” said Joe Griesedieck, vice chairman and managing director of Korn/Ferry Board & CEO Services Practice. “In today’s environment, succession planning should be a part of any company’s standard approach to governance.” Griesedieck understates the situation. It's not "surprising." It's stupid and irresponsible. And the irony is that, at a time when CEOs are treated -- and paid -- like gods, most corporations are cavalier about the possibility of having to replace their chief executive on short notice. I guess they must figure another god will always drop from the sky. Just like in the upcoming Thor movie.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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