top of page

Navigating CEO Transitions in the Shifting Landscape of Mergers and Acquisitions

The "M&A Midyear Report 2023: It Takes Two to Make a Market” report published by Bain & Company on July 11, 2023 indicates a 44% decline in global M&A value, January through May 2023. However, the report views this as a temporary slowdown rather than a permanent shift, noting that buyers are actively seeking to enhance their strategic positions amid uncertain times. While industries exhibit varied conditions, the report advises prudent preparation and diligence, anticipating a faster-than-expected market recovery, favoring well-prepared buyers and sellers poised to take action when conditions improve.

With a market recovery seemingly favoring well-prepared buyers, businesses venturing into potential mergers or acquisitions face a critical consideration regarding their CEO's role, especially amidst an uncertain future. As such, this article tackles the dilemma posed in a Quora post: "My company is undergoing acquisition, and I've been informed that I'll be substituted as CEO. However, I have the option to retain a different position if I choose. What's the best course of action?"

Decoding CEO role transitions: Insights from Severin Sorensen

Navigating through the intricate landscape of mergers and acquisitions requires a careful examination of the implications and possibilities that arise, particularly for key leadership positions. The prospect of an impending change in leadership, especially at the CEO level, can reverberate throughout the organization, impacting morale, culture, and the company's overall trajectory. Severin Sorensen's enlightening response to the Quora post sheds light on the multifaceted considerations that come into play when confronted with such a decision.

Drawing from Severin's insights—which have garnered a notable 500K views and 900 upvotes—it's evident that a change in leadership structure during an acquisition isn't merely a binary decision of staying or leaving; it's a complex evaluation of personal aspirations, alignment with the company's future direction, and a deep understanding of how the CEO's skills can best contribute to the newly formed entity. The opportunity to transition to a different role within the organization presents a chance for the CEO to leverage their expertise in a way that complements the evolving needs of the company.

The notion that this change is not a definitive endpoint, but rather a juncture that necessitates careful assessment, resonates with the broader context illuminated in Bain & Company's "M&A Midyear Report 2023: It Takes Two to Make a Market." The report's recognition of the temporary nature of the current M&A slowdown and the advice to be well-prepared for the eventual market upswing finds parallel in the CEO's situation. While the CEO may be facing an uncertain role transition, it's crucial to view this phase as a part of a larger trajectory, one where adaptability, foresight, and strategic planning become invaluable assets.

As the market landscape undergoes fluctuations and the dynamics of acquisitions evolve, the decision concerning the CEO's role holds significance not only for the individual but for the organization as a whole. This article seeks to provide a thoughtful exploration of the decision-making process, guided by Severin Sorensen's insights. It's a reminder that while change may be unsettling, it can also be an opportunity for growth and alignment with the company's future potential.

The context for replacing a CEO

When a company is on the brink of acquisition and the acquiring entity expresses a desire to replace the current CEO, it signifies more than just a change in leadership. Severin's answer highlights the underlying message: the acquiring party may not believe in the current CEO's ability to take the company to the next level. Additionally, the offer to remain in a different role might be more of a diplomatic gesture to maintain harmony during the transition rather than a genuine acknowledgment of value.

The intricacies of the situation

Severin's advice delves into the nuances of the situation, helping individuals in such positions navigate the crossroads with greater clarity. Here are some key points he emphasizes:

  • Evaluate your value: The acquiring company's not emphasizing your indispensability for the company's success carries meaningful implications about how they perceive your value. If they truly recognized your importance, they would have made a point to ensure your continued involvement to uphold client relationships, institutional knowledge, and overall continuity with care.

  • Consider the big picture: The acquiring company's not placing a strong emphasis on your ongoing presence for the company's success conveys a nuanced message about their perception of your value. If they truly appreciated your importance, they would have made a point to express their desire for your continued involvement to uphold client relationships, institutional knowledge, and overall harmony. This recognition would reflect the positive impact you've had and the caring role you've played within the organization.

  • Ownership of capital, passion, and zeal: If you possess the resources to propel the company forward and still carry the heartfelt enthusiasm to nurture its growth, it's a vital moment to explore alternative pathways. Among them, there could be equity buyers who genuinely recognize your contributions and sincerely wish for you to remain an integral part of the journey, reflecting the impact you've had.

  • The fit factor: Severin suggests that if the new ownership doesn't resonate with your vision, values, and aspirations, it might not provide the most conducive atmosphere for your ongoing engagement. Being associated with a company that doesn't fully recognize your expertise could potentially limit the positive influence you could bring.

Powerful questions to ask

The provided questions are designed to delve into different facets of the scenario, taking into account individual objectives and harmony with the company's trajectory. Their purpose is to facilitate a well-considered choice that optimizes the potential for personal development and meaningful influence amid the changing organizational environment.

Assessing value and contribution

  • How do you perceive your value to the company's success and growth?

  • What factors do you believe the acquiring company considered when offering you an alternative role?

  • If your involvement was essential for the company's future, do you think they would have explicitly required you to stay in a leadership role?

Alignment and vision

  • How aligned are your aspirations for the company with the acquiring entity's vision for its future?

  • Have you taken the company as far as you believe it can go under your leadership? If not, what additional potential do you see?

  • Do you sense any dissonance between your energy, passion, and the company's trajectory moving forward?

Ownership and influence

  • What resources, capital, or expertise do you possess that could contribute to the company's growth even if you're not in the CEO role?

  • How much influence would you have in a different role compared to your current CEO position? Is this level of influence aligned with your goals?

Cultural and vision fit

  • How well do you perceive your personal values and aspirations aligning with the culture and vision of the acquiring company?

  • If the new ownership doesn't fully appreciate your expertise, how might that impact your ability to make a positive impact on the business?

Long-term strategy

  • Considering the potential market recovery, what do you envision for the company's trajectory over the next few years?

  • Can you identify ways in which your skills could complement the evolving needs of the newly formed entity, even if it's not as CEO?

Personal growth and goals

  • How does the possibility of staying in a different role align with your long-term personal and professional goals?

  • In what ways might this situation, challenging as it is, provide an opportunity for your growth and development?

Decision-making process

  • What criteria or factors are most important to you in making this decision about your future role?

  • How might the potential impact on morale, culture, and overall company trajectory influence your decision?

Considering alternatives

  • Have you explored other options outside of the acquiring company that align with your expertise and aspirations?

  • How open are you to exploring new avenues for your career if staying in a different role within the organization isn't the best fit?

Short-term vs. long-term perspective

  • How can you balance the short-term uncertainty with the potential for long-term growth and impact?

Embracing change

  • How comfortable are you with the idea of change, both personally and professionally?

  • What support or resources do you need to make an informed and confident decision about your future role?

The main takeaway

Severin Sorensen's advice serves as a guiding light for entrepreneurs facing the challenging scenario of being replaced as CEO during an acquisition. His response emphasizes the importance of self-assessment, business evaluation, and alignment with the acquiring entity's vision. Severin's insights underscore the need for leaders to take stock of their aspirations and the value they can contribute to the business. Ultimately, the decision to stay in a new role after being replaced as CEO is a pivotal one that requires a deep understanding of one's goals and a clear-eyed view of the company's future prospects.


Harding D., Stafford D., and Kumar, S.. M&A Midyear Report 2023: It Takes Two to Make a Market. Bain & Company. 2023.

Sorensen, S. "My company is undergoing acquisition, and I've been informed that I'll be substituted as CEO. However, I have the option to retain a different position if I choose. What's the best course of action?" Quora. 2016.

Copyright © 2023 by Arete Coach LLC. All rights reserved.


bottom of page