The River Group CEO Research Report

Exchanges16 research logo
Image of Exchanges16 research report
Summary and Conclusions Findings and Advice Full Report

Sandy Lyons, CEO of The River Group and four-time CEO, introduces our CEO Report.

EXCHANGES is the annual CEO study by The River Group. Our research focuses on the role of the CEO, the pinnacle role of leadership in an organization. We recognize the unique characteristics of this role because we draw on years of experience as both CEO and consultants to CEOs. Our intention is to inform, enlighten and inspire those who aspire to lead.

This year, EXCHANGES16 is about the experience of becoming a CEO for the first time.

Our hypothesis was that there would be many common experiences among leaders making that first transition to the role of the CEO. Rooted in my own experiences as CEO, and my colleagues’ observations of client CEOs over the years, this study was designed to explore this crucible moment in transitioning to CEO for the first time.

This report summarizes our study, which was based on in-depth conversations with 75 CEOs during 2015. We asked the CEOs: “How prepared were you?” “What were the biggest surprises?” “What are the best and worst parts of the job?” “In what way is the job different from other leadership roles?”

The report is organized under six core themes or ‘experiences’ of the first-time CEO, as described to us. The findings confirmed our hypothesis, capturing what the CEOs wished they’d known before stepping into the role, while also compiling their advice for those who are preparing for, or aspiring to take on, the role.

As a two-time CEO in our study said: “You are an order of magnitude more prepared the second time you become the CEO.” I also found that to be true and was much more prepared each time I took on the role; there’s no substitute for direct experience.

As noted, there are six sections in this report. Each section describes one experience of first-time CEOs, and each has three parts: first, quotes from the CEO to illustrate and provide color commentary on that experience; second, a summary of that experience; and third, direct advice about how to handle the experience if you are a first-time CEO.

If you are a CEO, we’d love to hear from you about your own experiences when you first became the CEO.


Lessons learned from rookie CEOs
Sandy Lyons talks to CNBC’s Executive Edge to explain the results of The River Group’s new EXCHANGES16 study.
Tuesday, 26 Apr 2016 | 6:31 AM ET


Internal CEO Hires Need More Help, Not Less
Chief execs require more than the promise of an ‘open door’
by Amanda Gerut
June 27, 2016
A Financial Times Service


To New CEOs, Boards Are Like ‘Wild Animals’
New CEOs face the universal struggles of getting used to the job, assessing strategy and building strong executive teams. But one of the thorniest – and least expected – challenges faced by first-time CEOs, a report finds, is figuring out how to work effectively with boards without being consumed by the amount of time, care and attention required to get in synch with directors.
Agenda Week
May 2, 2016


First-Time CEO? 6 Experiences to Prepare For
While first-time CEOs might initially think they’re prepared to run a company, most quickly realize they weren’t as ready as they thought, new research finds.
By Chad Brooks, Business News Daily Senior Writer
Business News Daily
April 28, 2016 07:44 am EST


The biggest mistakes new CEOs make
Executive Grapevine
April 27, 2016


First Time CEOs Say They Were Unprepared for the Challenges and Loneliness That Comes with the Corner Office
New study by The River Group identifies lessons on how today’s first time CEOs can navigate the challenges and highlights of the new role
Business Wire
April 26, 2016 09:05 AM Eastern Daylight Time


For more information on EXCHANGES16, please email:


Average revenue
Average number of employees
Public companies
Private companies

map of company locations
Company headquarters of CEOs interviewed

Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States