Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Roderick E. White


CEO succession is an important event in organizations. Around 80% of succession events are relay successions, where a CEO successor is identified a few years before the actual succession event takes place. The success of relay succession compared to horse race and outside successions has been credited to the learning that an heir apparent acquires during the transition period. However, to my knowledge, none of the CEO succession research examines the learning process of heirs apparent.

This study attempts to fill this gap through empirical qualitative research. Using a combination of learning and sensemaking perspectives, this study builds premises proposing that the designation of executives as heirs apparent affects their learning processes by (1) eliciting a new identity for them, (2) triggering a potential for a future identity, (3) changing their social context, and (4) influencing their enacted environment.

The research question guiding this study is: “how the designation of executives as heirs apparent affects their learning and prepares them to become CEOs”. To empirically answer this thesis research question, I use a phenomenological approach. My findings provide a rich basis for analysis and evidence to support the proposed model regarding the impact of designation on executives’ learning during transition period. This study suggests designation elicits a new identity for executives and induces changes in their environment affecting how they interpret cues and adjust their behaviours and cognition accordingly. It also suggests executives, after designation, undergo a deep thinking process to establish the standards for their future identity as CEOs.