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Most new CEOs are overwhelmed, say job is harder than expected: poll

[SOUTHFIELD, Michigan] New chief executives, particularly those who are promoted from within, say they feel overwhelmed and unprepared - especially since they're increasingly called on to speak out on social issues.

About half of new CEOs say it's hard to find time for reflection and to drive culture change. Only about one in three say they felt fully prepared to take the job, according to a survey of 402 sitting CEOs in 11 countries by executive recruiter Egon Zehnder.

"Oftentimes, the board's review of talent focus on compensation and on performance, but less much on the development and psychology of the executives," said Dick Patton, who leads Egon Zehnder's global CEO search activities and also coaches CEOs.

More than a third of big companies around the world had three or more CEOs between 2007 and 2017; the average tenure of a CEO during that time was just four years. Among CEOs surveyed by Egon Zehnder, only 56 per cent said they were part of a planned succession. Twenty-seven per cent of respondents said they don't expect things to be better for their successor, which may be a reflection of the emotional toll of the job.

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Corporate directors at big public companies expressed a similar sentiment in a separate study last year from Stanford University of more than 100 directors at Fortune 250 companies. Most said fewer than four executives would be capable of stepping into the CEO role at their company and performing as well as the current CEO.

The job becomes even more difficult with the added demand that companies take a stand on issues on social media, or respond quickly if they are drawn into an online debate, said Egon Zehnder's Mr Patton. Meanwhile, less than a third of CEOs said they have turned to their board for support.