CEO turnover and changes in corporate performance in South Africa

Author :   James Wilkes

A research proposal submitted by James Wilkes to the Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Business Administration.

James Wilkes submitted his research paper to the TMA global awards and won first prize in the Theoretical/Conceptual category.


The role and responsibility of the CEO of an organisation is an extensively researched field. This research project investigates the drivers of CEO turnover and the factors affecting the resultant post turnover corporate performance.

An event study methodology, based on share price data from the JSE (Johannesburg Stock Exchange) was used to evaluate relative corporate performance. A pre event window of 250 trading days was used to establish corporate performance prior to the CEO turnover event, and a post event window of 500 trading days was used to evaluate the performance of the newly installed CEO. A sample of 143 CEO turnover events was examined, gathered during the period 1 April 2007 to 31 May 2012.

58% of the corporations undergoing CEO turnover were under performing their peers for one year prior to the turnover event, indicating that poor corporate performance was a major driver of CEO turnover. However, on further analysis, dissecting the data by corporation size yielded differing results, with 75% of small corporations undergoing CEO turnover in the ambit of under-performance, whereas in respect of large corporations, most CEO turnover was conducted in the circumstance of out-performance.

Overall, CEO turnover yielded a statistically relevant improvement of 13.6% in post event corporate performance. However, if a corporation was significantly underperforming its peers prior to the turnover event, the new CEO was likely to improve corporate results by 96%, whereas, if a new CEO took over a significantly out-performing corporation, the post turnover corporate performance would reduce by 66%. A statistically relevant linear equation was formulated, predicting the level of post event corporate performance in relation to the pre event corporate performance.

The variables of CEO tenure, CEO age, internal versus external CEO placements, and company size were also investigated, yielding interesting observations.

A research proposal submitted by James Wilkes
Student no.: 13418026

10 November 2014

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