CEO Succession Case Study:
American Jewish World Service
AJWS’ board pulled off a successful transition involving a long-serving executive, Ruth Messinger, and her faithful deputy, Robert Bank. It was a high stakes, high emotion realignment requiring each stakeholder to take deliberate, courageous steps to help move the process along.Read the Case Study Now Listen to the Case Study Now
“I used to tell donors who inquired about my plans that the only way I was going to leave my office was feet first. It’s a punchline, but I wasn’t joking.”
Ruth Messinger, AJWS President, 1998-2016
Ruth Messinger’s transition out of the CEO office had an extra, personal dimension: Her mother had been pushed into retirement prematurely, and Messinger was worried the same thing was happening to her.
Robert Bank, President & CEO of AJWS since 2016, worked to strike a balance to ensure Messinger’s continued involvement in the organization.
Ruth Messinger realized she risked losing Robert Bank, her #2 and the “lynchpin of her success,” if she didn’t step aside for his ascension to CEO. The board refused to blindly accept her choice over a national search. What happened next was a true crisis: Messinger stated she would withhold assistance in the transition of an externally appointed CEO. “I knew at the time—and I know now— that I was right,” Messinger says. “But I don’t have anything good to say about how I did it.”
“In retrospect, choosing Robert without conducting a broader search might have been the ‘obvious choice,’ but it wasn’t obvious to us and only developed organically from much conversation, deliberation, and soul searching.”
Marty Friedman, Longtime AJWS board member
Leading Edge partnered with a Senior Editor from Harvard Business Review to distill the most important elements of running a successful nonprofit CEO search.Read more
The Bridgespan Group has curated articles that can help your organization successfully survive—and even thrive —during a leadership transition.Read more
BoardSource offers resources to help your board establish a leadership succession plan, understand the phases of an executive transition, and lead the organization to its next stage of leadership.Read more