CEO Departures Hit a 17-Year High in 2019

"Companies appear to be preparing for a contraction in the market," says Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
David McCannJune 13, 2019

CEOs are leaving their posts in 2019 at a rate not seen in at least 17 years, according to data from outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The firm says it tracks CEO changes at public, private, and government/nonprofit entities that have been operating for at least two years and have a minimum of  10 employees. It gathers information from public filings, press releases, and news reports.

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Through May of this year, Challenger identified 627 announcements of CEO departures, up 16% from last year’s corresponding number (541).

It was the highest five-month total since Challenger began tracking this data in 2002.

“Though the tariff threat with Mexico seems to have subsided, companies appear to be preparing for a contraction in the market after so many months of expansion,” said Andrew Challenger, a vice president at Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

Further evidence of companies’ changing mindset is the firm’s recent report on announced job cuts, Andrew Challenger added. According to the report, U.S.-based employers announced in May plans to cut 58,577 jobs from their payrolls, up 46% from the April toll and 86% more than in May 2018.

In 2019 through May, 253 CEOs, or 40.5% of those who departed their jobs, stepped into other roles in their companies, usually as board chairperson or a different C-suite role.

According to Challenger, 178 CEOs retired this year, 54 took new positions at other companies, 8 reportedly left amid scandal, and 6 were felled by allegations of professional or sexual misconduct. Only three chief executives were terminated, while two died. Smatterings of CEOs left for various other reasons, while for 36 of the departures Challenger could not identify a reason.

Industries with high CEO turnover in the first five months of this year included health care (66 CEO departures), technology (65), financial (58), and services (39).

By far the largest share of the changes was in the government/nonprofit sector (141 CEO departures).