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The CEO Life Cycle: A Study of Performance over Time

By: Claudius Hildebrand, Robert Stark and Jim Citrin

No leadership position has a greater impact on an organization’s success than the CEO. Yet, very little data exists on how chief executive officers tend to perform over time.

To better understand CEO performance, we launched an extensive research study: The CEO Life Cycle Project.

Our team of researchers tracked year-by-year financial performance, spanning:


data points over a 40-year timeframe


S&P 500 CEOs' complete tenures


in-depth interviews with CEOs and board directors

What we found was a surprising pattern of headwinds and tailwinds that CEOs are likely to face during their years in the role, upending some common views about CEO tenure and value creation. Insights from this research have important implications, including:

  • How boards can determine when a CEO is suffering from a negative blip versus a longer-term problem
  • How CEOs can avoid common performance traps
  • How CHROs can become better advisers to the CEO and board

Read the full article in the November/December issue of Harvard Business Review.

Download the PDF

Highlights from the study

Watch this short video for highlights from our CEO Life Cycle research.

Watch the video

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