How to Honour the Legacy of a Retiring CEO

Get our Storytelling Newsletter

Take a Page from Steve Jobs’ Book

If you search for lists of history’s most famous CEOs, the results you receive likely won’t surprise you: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sam Walton, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey…. The accomplishments and influence of each of them are indeed titanic. Common, too, is that, unusually among CEOs, their names are virtually as well-known as those of the companies or products upon which their reputations and fortunes were made.

Yet another thing they have in common: each or them is the subject of one or more biographies, many of them bestsellers.

There are multiple reasons why millions of us enjoy reading nonfiction accounts of successful people. They provide a view onto a life perhaps more dramatic, more adventurous, altogether fuller than our own. They can offer entertainment, too, when they’re well written, and serve as inspiration, particularly if one aspires to goals in a similar field. “I learned a lot from this book and I believe it will continue to have a huge effect on my life moving forward,” concludes one Amazon customer’s breathless assessment of Walter Isaacson’s multi-million-selling Steve Jobs — a not atypical sentiment among hundreds of reader reviews of that 2011 book.

Jobs himself seemingly understood the importance of leaving a thorough document of his work. He personally commissioned Isaacson to write his biography, and it was completed in haste in his final two years. Steve Jobs was published three weeks after its subject’s passing.

If Not Now, When?

As has been observed here before, a hallmark of many successful people who come to ECHO (CEOs and otherwise) is a surplus of modesty — it often falls to their colleagues, family, and friends to lobby for a memoir. But those same reluctant participants tend to soon come around to the idea and ultimately are delighted with the results — and the impact those results have on readers.

A successful CEO — one whose leadership talents are made evident not only on a balance sheet, but in the hearts and minds of staff — deserves to be celebrated when they retire. Finding the right gesture that honours their legacy and reflects their unique personality is no easy task. Above all, it should be tangible — something the honouree can return to anytime as a reminder of, and a monument to, all they have achieved, and that can be passed down to future generations. This can be a personal memoir, a corporate history, or a combination of the two, in book form or as a video. And it should be filled with the memories and testimony of loved ones and valued associates.

Help them Leave a Legacy

CEOs and other effective leaders tend to place great importance on how their work has positively impacted others’ lives; no less a success story than Warren Buffett said he wants to be remembered not as modern history’s most lucrative investor, but as a teacher. For a certain type of leader, to have their altruistic goals affirmed by those who have surrounded them throughout their working life is immeasurably rewarding.

This generosity, openly explored in book form, is one of the most meaningful and lasting ways for a CEO’s name — and spirit — to carry on for generations to come.

You may also want to consider establishing a namesake educational trust, charitable foundation, or recurring award, especially if the CEO you seek to honour has demonstrated a passion for philanthropy. In keeping with Buffett’s desire to be remembered as a teacher, many CEOs wish for young, ambitious men and women to benefit from education in the same way they did, and to not be held back by financial limitations. This generosity, openly explored in book form, is one of the most meaningful and lasting ways for a CEO’s name — and spirit — to carry on for generations to come.

But whatever you ultimately decide, throw a party as well. It may not be as lasting as a book, but it lives forever in the memory of the person in whose honour it was thrown. Bringing together people to share stories, memories, and laughs is always a worthy endeavour. Even if it has to take place over Zoom, everyone could use a reason to celebrate this year.

Do you know someone who has lived an extraordinary life? If the time is right to capture their story, we’d love to hear from you. Call us at 1-877-777-ECHO (3246) or email