Scholars studying upper echelons have found that executive succession can serve as an important adaptation mechanism. The bulk of these findings, however, derive from market-based governance settings, which raises an issue of contextual robustness. This study examines this issue by investigating the link between executive succession and strategic change in Japan, a context noted for relatively weak market-based corporate governance and lack of board independence. We find a greater likelihood of strategic change after non-routine executive succession, with the extent of change unaffected by firm performance. Routine succession in the case of a powerful prior president leads to less post-succession strategic change. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.