If a company’s board adopts the classic succession “horse race,” pitting several executives in an overt contest with one crowned the next CEO, it can have a disruptive effect. Depending on how it’s done, the horse race can lose business momentum and alienate people who don’t align with an eventual winner. But the horse race approach, long used at admired companies, has also been successful in selecting exceptional leaders.
It’s important for boards and governance observers to be clear on the difference between a horse race and an open search. The former involves overt competition among several recognized candidates within a defined time frame, while the latter is a more subtle and focused process for identifying future talent in critical roles that will eventually lead to the top job.
Horse racing is a complex sport, with many different rules in place across the world. The sport began in the 1600s and became highly organized during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715). This was when rules were established for race stewards, certificates of origin for horses, and a system whereby foreign horses were required to carry extra weight on their backs.
The governing body for the sport differs from nation to nation, but in most cases the Jockey Club is the regulatory agency for long-term policy and overall control of race tracks and horses. The sport is a form of gambling in most countries and, as such, its rules and regulations are constantly evolving to reflect changing social attitudes and legal requirements.
To be successful at racing, large mature horses are preferred and stamina is as important as speed. For this reason races are often conducted over lengthy distances. The steeplechase, a type of racing involving jumping over a variety of obstacles including church steeples, is considered the most arduous and dangerous of all races. The steeplechase was a favorite event of cavalry officers and is the oldest known form of horse racing, dating to the 5th century BC.
Despite improved medical treatment and training, most racing horses are still pushed past their limits. Consequently, many will bleed from their lungs in a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. In an effort to mask the pain and reduce the bleeding, trainers often give their horses a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs. These are the same horses that, as a New York Times piece published this week reveals, are being treated with cruelty by trainers at two of the world’s most prestigious racing venues.