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From Bezos to Kendra Scott: 2021’s CEO Turnover Tsunami Begins

CEO Turnover

Jeff Bezos is stepping down as CEO of Amazon. Local CEO Kendra Scott, founder of the namesake billion-dollar jewelry empire, also recently stepped down. They’re part of what’s been called a “Great COVID Job Churn”—a tsunami of C-suite exits expected in 2021.

CEO turnovers hit record levels in 2019 and into the first two months of 2020, with January 2020’s total reaching nearly 40% more than January 2019. Turnover at the top hasn’t been as swift during the COVID-19 pandemic, with those in power during the crisis choosing to hang on. Disney’s Bob Iger is a great example: He suddenly retired in February 2020, only to be apparently pulled back in to lead the organization through the year’s turmoil.  But those executives now have an eye on the door in 2021.

From CEO To Executive Chairperson

Neither Bezos nor Scott are straying far from their companies—they both plan on moving into executive chairperson positions. As Business Insider points out, the Bezos departure signals a near-end of the big tech founder-CEO era. Like Larry Page at Alphabet and Bill Gates at Microsoft, Bezos is joining a “club of elite tech founders who have moved on from their role as CEO to focus on steering major strategic decisions and other grandiose projects.”

“In the Exec Chair role, I intend to focus my energies and attention on new products and early initiatives,” Bezos told Amazon employees in his announcement letter. “I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions. I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring. I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”

Founding CEOs often make these sidesteps to executive chair roles to give stakeholders and customers confidence while new CEOs get their footing. It can be a great transitional tool IF complete transformation isn’t desired.

Bezos handpicked Amazon Web Services (AWS) CEO Andy Jassy, his successor. Jassy has been with the company for 24 years and is considered one of Amazon’s most consequential executives, having transformed AWS into a $50 billion-a-year business in itself. “[He] has been known to be Bezos’ second-in-command and was even his first shadow adviser, a role that involves attending every meeting alongside the CEO,” Business Insider adds.

Kendra Scott’s new CEO, Tom Nolan, isn’t a stranger to leading his company, either. He joined the board in 2014 and then became chief revenue and marketing officer. By 2019, he became Kendra Scott’s president and worked on several significant initiatives, including accelerating omni-channel, expanding its retail footprint across the country, and increasing its wholesale presence.

Succession Matters

When things are going well for an organization—as they undeniably are for both Amazon and Kendra Scott—a calculated and quiet succession from within the ranks is reassuring. But what if a successor can’t be found within company leadership? Or what if an organization in crisis needs profound change at the top?

Boards and stakeholders should have a succession plan in place that weighs the following factors, for starters:

  • Where is the organization headed – and is that the direction we want to take, or do we need to make a change?
  • Does our CEO have any limitations in their ability to help name a successor that can achieve the above objective?
  • Who among the C-suite, board, and other stakeholders will be part of the selection process?
  • What’s our ideal timeline?
  • Should we identify a successor from within or look outside the organization?
  • How will we search for, recruit, and determine readiness for CEO candidates?

The task may seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be.

“Companies should view this time as an opportunity to significantly upgrade talent at the C-level within their organizations,” Ken Eissing, The HT Group Executive Advisor – CEO, Sales and Marketing. Finding top leadership isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, either. “An interim executive can help reduce the load on the team while bringing the added benefit of fresh insights and ideas from an outside perspective,” adds Andy Lambrecht, The HT Group Executive Advisor – CMO. Lambrecht continues, “Sometimes you just need a pair of outside eyes to discuss strategy with. A business consultant can help clear the fog and add to the efficiency of the team.”

For more advice from Eissing, Lambrecht, and other expert HT executive advisors, read this previous article and contact us for a one-on-one consultation.