Board Chair Succession Planning: 2009 Special Report

With 83% of major Canadian boards now separating the roles of chair and CEO, there has been an increased focus on board leadership as one of the most important factors determining board effectiveness. While undertaking hundreds of board and director assessments and searches over the past fifteen years, Patrick O’Callaghan and Associates and Korn/Ferry International have consistently found that the boards operating most effectively have exceptional board chair leadership. Conversely, when a board is struggling, poor board leadership is inevitably one of the problems. The board chair has an enormous impact on board performance and exercises significant discretionary influence over both the board and management.

The objective of this survey was to better understand how Canadian boards plan for the succession of the board chair. Korn/Ferry International and Patrick O’Callaghan and Associates surveyed 185 directors across Canada during the spring and summer of 2009 soliciting their comments and views regarding board chair succession planning.

Highlights of Survey

  • Ninety-seven percent of the directors surveyed believe that board leadership is either important or very important to the effectiveness of the board. 
  • Directors indicated that the four most important responsibilities of the board chair are ensuring the board has a strategic focus, helping set the tone and culture of the organization, managing relationships and ensuring that the Board is operating effectively. 
  • Directors indicated that the key skills and experience required by a modern chair include previous significant leadership experience, outstanding communication skills, an understanding of the relevant business and industry, and the time to devote to undertaking the broad range of board chair responsibilities in today’s environment. 
  • Just over half of all the directors interviewed indicated that there was no board chair succession planning process in place within their organization. 
  • When directors were asked if board chair succession planning received the appropriate amount of attention within their organization forty-nine percent of directors said that either it did not or they were not sure. 
  • Directors identified a number of important principles that should be taken into consideration when planning a board chair succession process.