New CEOs face a critical strategic choice. Should they settle into the job, spend a year or more getting to know their businesses, and then start shifting the portfolio? Or is it better to act quickly and boldly early on to divert resources from mature activities to a new generation of corporate opportunities?

We observe CEOs following both approaches, but one appears to deliver superior results: between 1990 and 2010, chief executives who reallocated corporate resources early in their tenures generated materially stronger returns for shareholders than those who waited. In the process, these active CEOs also seem to have prolonged their own time at the top. What’s more, a similar decisiveness in changing the composition of the top team also brought disproportionate longer-term rewards.

In our database of more than 1,500 multibusiness public companies in the United States, we identified a subset that reported changing their CEOs. We then divided the 365 “new” CEOs in our database into two roughly equal groups: those who were slow to reallocate capital across the business portfolio during their first three years and those who were fast to reallocate it. When we correlated these results with a CEO’s individual tenure, we discovered that just over one-third of the relatively inactive CEOs had moved on by year six, but only a quarter of the fast leaders had.

The best results were achieved by CEOs who moved swiftly early on and then throttled back the rate of resource-allocation change to allow the market to understand and value their early actions. By contrast, late starters—those who were slow to reallocate capital during the first three years of their mandate but then picked up the pace of change—did not find themselves as well rewarded by the market.

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