Fast Paced and Effective Senior Leader Transition and Assimilation


The Chief Executive Officer of the alumni association for a major American university was transitioning after a successful and dynamic 25-year tenure. The CEO had overseen the growth and evolution of the organization with an active and hands-on style and had developed deep relationships within the university and outside of it. Any new CEO would have big shoes to fill as the alumni association was seen as a part of the CEO’s legacy.

After an extensive review process, a new CEO was identified from another part of the organization. The new person was well qualified with his own unique style and ideas, but did not have the contextual history of the past 25 years of the organization. It became apparent that any new CEO and the alumni association itself would benefit from a codification of the major decisions, rationale, events, turning points, relationships and precedents which had been set in the past. The work was not intended to mire any forward movement in past history, but to more completely inform future decisions and actions.


Through a series of interviews, we helped the transitioning CEO to identify her thought processes, the past influences and relationships and the rationale for decisions and actions taken and events which occurred. This work helped the transitioning CEO to identify the critical knowledge and learning which was then codified into a historical document to be used by the new CEO and the organization going forward. The information has been used to provide context for decisions, background for discussion and to help inform a forward path. The new CEO, Board of Directors and staff participated in knowledge transfer sessions where the history and background were discussed?, questions could be asked and the context became a common language for the organization.

Lessons Learned

Transitioning leaders, experts and others most often want to transfer knowledge, especially after a long and successful tenure, but lack a process which makes it easy for them to do so. The process allows verification of facts, as many views of an issue, event, decision or action are considered. Sharing the outcomes as a group allows questions to be asked and a common understanding and language around events and decisions to be created. The past context is not codified to hold back progress, but to ensure previous actions, decisions, intended and actual outcomes are well understood to reduce major missteps in the future and increase the opportunity for sustainable success.

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