The number of U.S. CEOs who lost or left their jobs in January continued a record-setting trend established in the fourth quarter of 2018. A total of 157 CEOs departed last month, the highest monthly total ever, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
A near-record number of 129 CEOs left their jobs in December and 429 departed in the fourth quarter, the most in a quarter since Challenger began reporting the data in 2002. A total of 1,452 CEOs left their jobs in 2018, the second-highest total ever. In all of 2017, a total of 1,160 CEOs left their jobs, down 7% from the prior year’s total of 1,248.
The January total was nearly 22% higher than the December total and about 19% higher year over year for the month.
Vice President Andrew Challenger noted:
The last two quarters have seen record-setting totals for CEO turnover. Companies are responding to the strong, but uncertain, economic conditions by engaging new leadership who can both set companies on a path for growth while also gearing up for a potential downturn. Meanwhile, concurrently, the strong economy over the last several months has led to a number of new start-ups, which are now turning to more seasoned leaders, adding to high turnover numbers in the CEO spot.
Beginning in January, Challenger broke out CEO exits at cannabis and financial technology companies. Two CEO changes were announced by cannabis companies in January, while one CEO exit was announced in fintech.
The average age of a departing CEO in December was 60.7 years, compared to an average age of 60.3 among January 2018’s departing chiefs. The average tenure of these CEOs was 11.6 years last month, compared with 17.2 years in January 2018.
Of the CEOs who departed in January, 73 stepped down, 41 retired and 17 found new positions with other companies. Just one stepped down to another position at the same company. Challenger noted that one CEO reportedly left due to a scandal, another due to professional misconduct allegations and one other due to an internal investigation. One departure, that of former PG&E CEO Geisha Williams, was attributed to “California Wildfire.”
The government/nonprofit sector saw 29 CEO changes in January, a 45% year-over-year increase. In the healthcare/products industry, 17 CEOs left their positions last month.
California companies saw the highest number of CEO changes last month with 18, while companies in Texas and New York saw 11 departures each in the month.