The Horse Race and the Boardroom

horse race

For many aficionados, the sport of horse racing is an art form. The horses run, leap and move with hypnotic smoothness. Their speed and grace are breathtaking, capturing the imagination of millions of human fans who follow them on racetracks across America and around the world. And, of course, it’s a big business. But, as with so much in this for-profit industry, profit often comes at a cost to people and animals.

Despite the awe of watching a good horse race, there are real concerns about the way in which horses are treated in the business. The problem is deeply rooted in the structure of horse racing itself. It is a system that requires that every horse be pedigreed, meaning the sire and dam must be pure of whatever breed is racing. Those who don’t meet the strict requirements are denied the opportunity to compete and, ultimately, to be slaughtered.

As a result, many of the best horses are drugged to the point of insensibility. The sport’s critics say these drugs are used to mask the pain and stress of horse racing. In addition, the animal rights group Peta estimates that ten thousand American thoroughbreds are slaughtered each year. The abuse isn’t limited to the horses, though, as a great many horse trainers, jockeys and owners are part of a corrupt system that exploits the sport’s athletes.

The sports culture and the for-profit business model are incompatible with equine welfare, which is why there has never been an evolution of the horse race’s business model to put the health and safety of horses as its top priority. Instead, racing aficionados tend to ignore the concerns of animal rights activists and the general public while continuing to fail at protecting horses.

Aside from the issue of equine welfare, there are reasons why some boards and executive committees are wary of the classic succession “horse race” approach to selecting a new chief executive officer. Depending on how the contest is managed, it can disrupt the company’s momentum and distract from its strategic priorities. It can also cause the company to lose a strong leader deeper in the organization who has aligned with an unsuccessful candidate.

But, while there are genuine concerns about the horse race approach to selecting a new CEO, it is still an effective strategy for companies that choose to use it. Those who are considering using it, however, should first consider whether their company’s culture and organizational structure are compatible with an overt leadership contest among several recognized candidates within an established time frame. They should then take steps to minimize the disruptions and risks associated with such a contest. They should also make sure that they are fully informed about the capabilities of each potential candidate and choose the one who will be the best fit for their organization at that time. Finally, they should ensure that the process is transparent and fair to everyone involved. To achieve these goals, it is critical that the board and current CEO work closely with each candidate throughout the contest.