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CEO Turnover Up in March, New Women CEOs Down 23%

The number of U.S. CEOs who lost or left their jobs in March increased by 6% month over month, from 106 in February to 112. The March total represents a year-over-year increase for the month of 19%. In March of 2020, 94 CEOs left their positions.

Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas released its March report Wednesday morning, noting that for the first quarter of 2021, 307 CEOs have left their positions, down by 30% compared with the same period last year.

By gender for the year to date, 39 women have replaced men in the top job, while 26 men have replaced women and 13 women have replaced other women. Men have replaced men 197 times in the first three months of the year, and 18.9% of all new CEOs named during the same period were women. Through March, the percentage of women replacements is sharply lower than the 23.2% total for the same period last year and the 22.7% total for all of 2020.

In all of 2020, a total of 1,314 CEOs left their jobs, a decline of nearly 20% from the prior year’s total of 1,640.

Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray, commented: “Companies are now making leadership changes as they determine how they will do business going forward. It’s becoming increasingly clear that many companies will not go back to the way things were pre-COVID.”

The government/nonprofit sector experienced the greatest number of CEO changes last month with 23. That brings the total for the year to 58, a decrease of 28% from the first three months of 2020.

Sixteen health care sector CEOs departed in March, the second-highest category total for the month. For the year to date, 41 CEOs in this sector have departed, the second-highest total of any sector and 8% more than in the same period last year.

The third-highest number of monthly changes came in the technology sector, where 14 departures were counted. For the year to date, 30 tech sector CEOs have left their jobs, about half as many as the 58 who left through the first quarter of last year.

Of the CEOs who departed in March, 16 retired and six found new opportunities. According to Challenger data, stepping down into a different role within the company was the most frequent reason for a CEO departure in March. A total of 34 CEOs stepped down last month.

The average age of a departing CEO in March was 55.8 years, compared to an average age of 53 among 2020’s departing chiefs. The average tenure of these CEOs was 8.8 years last month, compared with 10 years in March 2019.

The number of departing CEOs who were replaced by outsiders in the first three months of 2021 was 134. In 2020, the full-year total was 636.