What do CrossFit, HP, Overstock and Nissan all have in common? Each had its CEO step down in 2019. They were not alone.

by Insigniam Read more from the Evolving Role of the CEO issue

They were not alone.

According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., CEO turnover for 2019 amounted to 1,640 chief executives in total—even more than in the recessionary year of 2008, when 1,484 CEOs departed.

What is behind this exodus? Andrew Challenger, a vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said one factor is obvious: retirement.

“Longer-tenured CEOs are stepping down when the company is in a pretty darn good position,” Mr. Challenger told Fortune. “With a lot of tensions on the horizon, some CEOs are finding now is the time to put their succession plans into action.”

Other factors have contributed to voluntary and involuntary departures, too. Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa was fired in September amid allegations that he had padded his compensation, while Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Kevin McAllister was ousted in October in the wake of the deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia in 2018
of planes in the company’s 737 MAX series.

Pressure from activist investors also has led to high-profile exits, including those of eBay’s Devin Wenig and Samsonite’s Ramesh Tainwala, while bumpy turnarounds spurred departures of Norwegian Air’s Bjørn Kjos  and Karl Roessner of E-Trade Financial.

What does this trend mean for the CEOs who remain?

“The high-level skill sets of many CEOs are in high demand right now, and the tight labor market and skills shortage may have many boards attempting to poach sitting leaders,” Mr. Challenger said in a statement.

This article appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of IQ Insigniam Quarterly, with the headline “CEOs Head for the Exit.” To begin receiving IQ, go here.


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