Big leadership changes are coming to LinkedIn.    

On Wednesday, chief executive officer Jeff Weiner, who has led LinkedIn for 11 years, sent an email to all 16,000 LinkedIn employees, announcing that he will be stepping down.

The company's current global head of product, Ryan Roslansky, will take over as CEO starting June 1, while Weiner will move into the role of executive chairman. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft, so Roslansky will report directly to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Weiner then posted his entire email (where else?) on LinkedIn. And the key takeaway is clear.

In an age of corporate tumult, Weiner and Roslansky have done a masterful job in projecting stability. That could be an important lesson when you think about leadership transitions in your business.

A "staggering" number

During 2019, a "staggering" number of CEOs at big companies left their jobs, according to Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement and career transitioning firm that tracks turnover. 

The firm reported 1,640 CEO departures last year, a 12.9 percent increase over 2018 and the biggest annual number since they started tracking CEO turnover in 2002.

While it's often in companies' interest to portray departures as smooth, seamless, and voluntary, the truth is that we've seen a rash of big companies lurching from one leader to the next recently, often under difficult circumstances.

Just a few:

  • McDonald's, which abruptly changed CEOs in November, after outgoing CEO Steve Easterbrook had a "consensual relationship with an employee"
  • WeWork, which only named a new CEO this week, after co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann was forced out in September
  • Subway, a private company that doesn't disclose details, but where John Chidsey, long ago the CEO of Burger King, recently took over
  • PG&E, where CEO Geisha Williams stepped down after the company faced "$30 billion in potential liabilities" as a result of California wildfires
  • Wells Fargo, where ex-CEO Timothy Sloan spent two years trying unsuccessfully to improve his bank's image after it acknowledged consumer abuses (like opening accounts without customer approval)
  • Under Armour, where founder and CEO Kevin Plank announced he'd be leaving

We could go on and on and on. (I noted an exception to this rule in December, when the CEO of United Airlines announced a six-month transition.)

Calm and peaceful

This is what makes LinkedIn's transition so striking. It's a calm transition, by all indications. Peaceful, even.

Weiner has been at the helm since the waning days of the George W. Bush administration. He's handing over the reins to Roslansky, who was the very first person Weiner hired after he became CEO (starting in May 2009, according to Roslansky's LinkedIn profile).

In turn, even the person who will be taking over for Roslansky as global head of product, Tomer Cohen, has been with LinkedIn for eight years (again, according to his LinkedIn profile).

Provided there are no contradicting details that we don't know about, the way Weiner says the transition came about signals stability too:

  • Weiner said he started talking with Nadella about the idea of stepping down "last summer."
  • He won't actually be leaving for another four months.
  • He'll be taking on the executive chairman role that Reid Hoffman held during his tenure.

Of all the social media companies, LinkedIn is one of a kind. It's been around forever--it's older than Facebook by two years. Since 2016, it's been a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft, which gives it a unique corporate structure among its competitors.

Yet it's been in a process of almost continual reinvention.

Even as Weiner rattled off some of its statistics in his goodbye email (675 million members, 16,000 employees, $7.5 billion in revenue), I think he's correct to say that "in many respects it feels like LinkedIn is just getting started." 

Maybe you think LinkedIn is on the right path. Maybe you think it could use some shaking up.

But if you value security, and a lot of investors, employees, and users do, LinkedIn just displayed a textbook case in how to project stability during a big transition. 

Published on: Feb 5, 2020
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