By Geoff Colvin and Ryan Derousseau
October 2, 2015

It’s been a newsy few weeks for CEO turnover. Let’s assess the prospects of three newly minted chiefs and one who’s maybe-minted:

Jack Dorsey is the maybe CEO of Twitter, which he cofounded. He returned as interim CEO a few months ago when Dick Costolo stepped down, and news reports Wednesday said he was getting the job permanently. The company has still made no announcement, but investors have spoken: They hate the idea. The stock dropped yesterday on the news. The Dorsey idea faces at least two big problems. One, he’s already CEO of Square, the payments company that he founded and that he says he won’t be leaving, especially now that it’s preparing for an IPO. Could he really run two companies? Two, investors for now have no reason to believe Dorsey can solve Twitter’s big strategic problems, like where it will find more users and revenue. If he gets the job, his odds of succeeding look no better than even.

Stefan Larsson was named CEO of Ralph Lauren Corp. on Wednesday, and initially it looked like a home-run transition. Larsson, 41, came in from Old Navy and looked like just the kind of outsider who could restore Lauren’s growth. The stock jumped, after falling some 40% this year. But then Ralph himself sent a note to employees making clear that this wasn’t a transition at all. “I am not stepping down, nor am I stepping back. I am stepping up,” he said, and he noted pointedly that “As the largest shareholder, I will continue to nurture and grow this company.” Founders who can’t let go are an old story in business, and the story doesn’t usually end well. Larsson’s prospects look markedly worse today than they did two days ago.

Matthias Mueller became Volkswagen’s CEO one week ago, and so far it’s hard to tell if he might be the revolutionary that the company needs. In the best case, he could be like General Motors’ Mary Barra, an insider who understands the culture deeply and knows why and how to blow it up, and who uses the company’s current crisis to make it happen. That’s the best case. But he could also be a highly competent insider who’s hands are clean and who could be installed as CEO on short notice, but who has no intention of leading a revolution. And even if he wants to be a revolutionary, VW’s powerful supervisory board may not let him. For now his prospects are shrouded in fog, which is not an encouraging sign.

Oscar Munoz has been CEO of United Continental Holdings – United Airlines – for just over three weeks, and he’s starting off well. A headline at this morning sums up his stance: “United Airlines CEO Pledges to Stop Being Awful to Customers and Employees.” He is saying what needs to be said out loud, that the company has a problem, that it isn’t treating customers well, and that “this merger hasn’t gone as well as it could have.” That’s step one. Now he has to fix the culture and operations, and the hopeful news is that it can be done, as Gordon Bethune demonstrated when he rescued Continental from far worse problems in the 1990s. Munoz faces a huge challenge, yet among all of September’s new CEOs, I like his prospects the best.


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