No one knows more about CEO succession — the good, the bad, and the very ugly — than Yale’s Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. He has some thoughtful comments on the second CEO within a year at GE. He insists it is not unheard of and makes the key point that there was a major turnover on the board was a factor as well as poor performance by the CEO.
[T]here is an entire category of CEO departure styles of such returns to glory I have termed “Generals.” These mothballed leaders can be priceless resources at times of distress. Accordingly, the Second World War was a triumphs of such returning brass to high office with the legendary titans such as: Winston Churchill; Charles De Gaulle; Douglas McArthur; George Patton; Bernard Montgomery all returning to active duty from fully retired status.
Sometimes, however, the return of such past heroes is for complicated reasons beyond global conflicts or failed performance of incumbents. John Flannery was in office just over 12 months, yet the board that hired him was not the board that fired him and dealt with their own turnover. This new board that fired Flannery had only just endorsed his new strategy at the prior quarterly board meeting in late June. It seems hasty to oust Flannery on two months of execution.