The Horse Race As a Succession Strategy

The horse race is a classic succession strategy that pits several senior executives against one another in an overt competition to become the company’s next chief executive officer. The approach has proven successful at many admired companies, and it can have a range of benefits for the organization. Proponents say that overt competition can help to motivate people throughout the organization to see if they have what it takes to take on the top job, and that having several strong internal candidates can ensure that the company will eventually select an excellent leader.

Running fast comes naturally to horses, but in order to outrun their rivals, they need to be pushed, usually with a whip. That means that the horses suffer injuries, often requiring surgery; some die from their efforts. Horses, especially those that run on oval tracks, give their lower legs a pounding that can strain ligaments, tendons and joints. And, of course, the pounding can cause hemorrhage in their lungs.

In the most prestigious races, called conditions races, the weights that the horses carry are adjusted in relation to their age and gender (so that younger horses and females compete against each other with equal chances). A horse’s performance can also be affected by its position relative to the inside barrier, its sex, its jockey, its training, its diet, its veterinary care and its health.

Although the sport of horse racing is global, its roots are in ancient Greek competitions involving four-hitched chariots and bareback riders. The game spread throughout the Middle East, Asia and Europe in the early modern era and reached North America during the British occupation of New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1664. The sport has since grown to include thousands of races across the globe, and its rules are constantly evolving.

The business of horse racing is complex and consists of multiple stakeholders: the owners, for both breeding and racing; the trainers, who prepare the horses; the jockeys, who ride them; the tracks, which organize and hold the races; and the fans, who wager money on each race. In addition, horse races are heavily subsidized by state governments.

Behind the romanticized façade of Thoroughbred horse racing is a world of drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. The horses that participate are forced to sprint—often under threat of whips and illegal electric-shocking devices—at speeds so high that they frequently sustain serious injuries and even hemorrhage from their lungs. Despite these dangers, the industry is rife with corruption and exploitation.

Aside from its economic and social costs, horse racing is a violent, dangerous and addictive activity for the animals. The industry has been a target of reform campaigns, and some states have begun to ban or limit horse racing, but the United States still lags behind Europe and other venues in basic horse-racing safety. Fortunately, there is hope that a federal regulatory authority will be established in July 2022, and that the U.S. will finally move closer to the rest of the world in basic safety standards.