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Moving Out of the Corner Office

By Craig E. Aronoff, Ph.D.

Leadership transition is often difficult for family business CEOs. Personal habits are hard to change and the perquisites of the position can be hard to give up. Sometimes a leader is willing to give up his “office”---that is the title and responsibilities of the CEO position---but just wants to keep his “office,” his familiar personal space at work. An incumbent but retiring CEO can be of two minds about the geography of headquarters.

 

Incumbent CEO Retiring CEO
I can't believe the board is telling me to move out of the office. As long as I sit in the "boss' office" people will continue to see me as the boss.
I've been coming to this office for over 25 years. This is my home. I know where everything is...and I hate moving. If my successor is to have the necessary authority and respect, it must be clear that she's the boss.
If we just announce that I've retired, people will understand even if I keep my office. People are so used to seeing me as the boss, strong symbolic action is required to help people change their expectations. Maybe I should move out of the building completely.

 

The “corner office” syndrome makes it clear that organizational status is connected closely to office geography. The boss should occupy the boss’s space or, especially in a family business, employees and others will continue to relate to the retiring CEO as the boss.

A long-time CEO sometimes has such a powerful presence in his organization that for the sake of his business and its new leader, he should not only vacate his office but the building. One powerful CEO who did not realize the extent to which employees responded to his nonverbal communication was surprised by his board’s suggestion that he move out of his building. “Do you really expect me to rent office space somewhere else?” he asked. “Well you basically have two choices,” offered a board member. “We can either move you out of the building…or we can move everyone else out of the building.”

The retiring CEO moved into a nice office space a couple of miles away. As chairman, he remained fully informed by internet, phone and meetings with the CEO and CFO. But absent his presence, his successor was much more able to implement changes improving the health of the business,

 

 

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