When somebody decides to leave a company, you can usually come in and hire another person to take the position, but this does not work as easily when you are talking about a high ranking position from within a company. In fact, the higher up the chain the position is for, the harder it is to go out and find a replacement, due to the fact that there are far less people out there that qualify. Finding a new CEO is a process that can take quite a bit of time and in order to make sure that a business hires the right CEO, they usually have a head hunter go out and find a successor for the position.
Executive staffers, like Korn/Ferry’s Dennis Carey go out and try to find a new recruit, which can be an extremely difficult process. In big cities that have a great deal of large companies, you usually have a pretty tight network of people that are at the upper end of such companies, who stay in fairly decent contact with each other. Through this type of networking and exploring the various contacts that these head hunters have, they can determine some people that they believe may be qualified and be able to take over the CEO position that they are looking for. They then will typically invite the person to come in and interview, and the process of deciding who will get the position starts.
It can be pretty tough to go out and find a person to come in and fit right into a company when you are dealing with a CEO position, or various other top level executive positions, as they make the biggest decisions and can literally make or break a company. After the head hunter has made a determination that one of the candidates will fit the bill better than the others, they will then offer them the position, but only time will tell if they did in fact make a correct decision. You can kind of think of the way that large companies go about replacing an executive or a CEO as the same way that professional sports teams go out and recruit new coaches. The process is literally exactly the same, as they have a network of people that are potentially qualified, the candidates are courted in one way or another, interviews are made, and finally a decision is made on the new coach.