More Than 1,400 US CEOs Left Their Jobs in 2018

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The number of U.S. CEOs who lost or left their jobs in December added to a record number of fourth-quarter departures, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. A total of 129 CEOs left their jobs in December, bringing the fourth-quarter total to 429, the highest level since Challenger Gray began reporting the data in 2002.

For the full year, 1,452 CEOs left their jobs, up more than 25% year over year and just below the highest level ever, a total of 1,484 posted in 2008. The December total was nearly 36% higher year over year, but the month-over-month total was down about 12% from November’s total of 147. The August total of 154 remains the monthly high for 2018.

In all of 2017, a total of 1,160 CEOs left their jobs, down 7% from the prior year’s total of 1,248. Of that total, 11 were due to allegations of sexual misconduct, up from three in both 2015 and 2016.

Vice President Andrew Challenger noted:

There’s a lot of uncertainty as we begin 2019. While the job market is strong, with low unemployment and strong hiring numbers, the stock market is in near-constant flux; trade concerns loom in many industries, including manufacturing and technology; and the regulatory environment may change with a new Congress. Boards are anticipating a changing environment and putting leadership in place who are capable of succeeding in it.

The average age of a departing CEO in December was 56.5 years, compared to an average age of 67 among 2017’s departing chiefs. The average tenure of these CEOs was 10.8 years last month, compared with 16.3 years in December 2017.

Of the CEOs who have departed in 2018, 403 retired and 136 found new positions with other companies. A large number of the departing CEOs — 355 — stepped down to other positions in their companies, either as board members or another C-level executive.

The government/nonprofit sector has experienced 276 CEO changes so far this year, of which 18 occurred in December. The total represents a 44.5% year-over-year increase.

In the computer industry, 152 CEOs left their positions last year, including 14 in December. For the full year, CEO departures in the industry are up almost 57% compared to the same period last year.

The following chart breaks out 2018 CEO changes by industry:

17-Dec 18-Nov 18-Dec YTD 2017 YTD 2018
Aerospace/ Defense 4 1 8 12
Apparel 2 1 0 4
Automotive 2 2 5 24
Chemical 1 1 5 8
Commodities 1 12 5
Computer 8 14 14 97 152
Construction 1 2 7 19
Consumer Products 3 3 3 30 39
Electronics 3 4 2 14 25
Energy 2 5 2 35 30
Entertainment/ Leisure 7 3 6 60 55
Financial 12 17 19 119 154
Food 1 2 6 31 40
Government/ Nonprofit 18 33 18 191 276
Health Care/ Products 11 10 12 105 131
Hospitals 5 9 15 107 139
Industrial Goods 8 3 34 42
Insurance 1 2 2 26 16
Legal 2 3
Media 4 2 17 25
Pharmaceutical 7 5 5 47 48
Real Estate 4 1 1 14 27
Retail 1 3 2 41 35
Services 6 7 1 110 85
Telecoms 3 1 12 10
Transportation 3 4 5 25 27
Utility 2 3 6 21
TOTAL 95 147 129 1,160 1,452

Courtesy of Challenger, Gray & Christmas

According to Challenger, two CEOs were terminated from their positions in December, bringing the full-year total to 23. Scandals forced out 14 in 2018, and eight were accused of sexual misconduct.

California companies saw the highest number of CEO changes last year with 155, 13 of which occurred in December. Companies in Texas saw 11 departures last month and 134 for the year, while New York reported six changes in December and 87 for the full year.