||This article may be too technical for most readers to understand. (April 2012)|
CEO succession refers to the process by which boards of directors ensure that their organization has the ability to sustain excellence in CEO leadership over time, with transitions from one leader to the next. CEO succession is one of key functions of a board of directors. Changing the head of an enterprise impacts company culture, board/CEO relations, and perceptions from multiple constituencies inside and outside the business. The disruption that occurs can impact performance in a positive, neutral or negative manner. Successful companies manage this process well in advance with a concerted set of processes and milestones. Effective CEO succession requires a well-defined program that ensures a supply of highly capable candidates ready to assume the CEO position whether through an unexpected event or a planned transition. Success or failure of a CEO transition is influenced by a host of obvious and non-obvious factors, many of them of a social/psychological nature. How these factors are managed can have an enormous impact on the performance and status of the organization.
There are six key outcomes of an effective CEO succession: 
- A board that is aligned on the strategy of the company and expectations of the new CEO
- An effective CEO in place with sufficient candidates in the pipeline (both internal and external)
- Well-managed and minimized risks associated with CEO transition
- Stakeholder consensus that the succession process is fair, well executed, and results in a good succession decision
- Highly talented people are retained - even those who were unsuccessful candidates
- Plans for a succession emergency are in place
In an October 2009 release , the United States Securities and Exchange Commission effectively removed the ordinary business exclusion defense used by companies reluctant to disclose their CEO succession process to shareholders. The policy change allows for a new wave of corporate governance scrutiny, as regulators and shareholders increasingly focus on CEO succession practices. Staff Bulletin (SLB 14E) announced that, in principle, the commission no longer allows companies to exclude shareholder proposals based on an argument that CEO succession planning is an ordinary business operations matter. In reversing its position, the SEC acknowledged that poor CEO succession planning constitutes a significant business risk and raises a policy issue on the governance of the corporation that transcends the day-to-day business of managing the workforce. The change indicates that regulators have reframed CEO succession as a risk management issue and placed its responsibility firmly in the boardroom. Succession planning responsibilities are redefined as “a key board function” and “a significant policy (and governance) issue … so that a company is not adversely affected by a vacancy in leadership.” 
- The Corporate Governance of Iconic Executives, Notre Dame Law Review, available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2040922
Books on the subject:
Articles on the subject:
Pellet, J., (2009). “What’s Wrong with CEO Succession?” Chief Executive, 240. 
Boyle, M., (2009). "The Art of CEO Succession," BusinessWeek, 4130. 
Charan, R., (2005). ‘’Ending the CEO Succession Crisis,’’ Harvard Business Review, 83(2).
Balloun, J., & McGill, J. (2005). “Succession Planning: A Critical Boardroom Imperative,” NACD Directors Monthly, 29(9).
Dierickx, C., & McGill, J. (2007). “The Dark Side of CEO Succession,” Chief Executive, 225. 
Dierickx, C., & Veneziano, J. (2008). “Three Keys to CEO Succession,” People & Strategy, 31(2). 
Directorship Magazine (2009). “CEO Succession". 
The Conference Board (2010). Examining the impact of SEC guidance changes on CEO succession planning