Published January 8, 2019

A total of 129 Chief Executive Officers left their posts in the final month of 2018, capping the highest quarterly total for CEO changes since Challenger began tracking in 2002, according to a report released Wednesday by global outplacement consultancy and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Last month’s total is 35.8 percent higher than the 95 CEOs who left their posts in December 2017. It is 12.2 percent lower than the 147 CEO changes recorded the previous month.

Challenger tracked 1,452 CEO changes in 2018, 25.2 percent higher than the 1,160 CEOs who left their posts in 2017. It is just shy of the highest annual total on record in 2008, when 1,484 CEOs left their posts.

The final quarter of 2018 saw 425 CEO changes, the highest quarterly total on record. It was 7 percent higher than the previous quarter, when 396 CEO changes were tracked, and 44.6 percent higher than the 294 CEOs who left their posts in the final quarter of 2017.

“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,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“Boards are anticipating a changing environment and putting leadership in place who are capable of succeeding in it,” he added.

Which industries saw the most CEO turnover?

Boards are also strictly enforcing company policies regarding relationship and/or ethics issues. Eight CEOs left amid sexual misconduct allegations and another four left due to allegations of professional misconduct.

The majority of CEOs (403) retired this year, about 27 percent of all CEO changes. This is on par with 2017, when 320 of 1,160 CEOs retired. Another 283 CEOs resigned from their positions, while 355 stepped down into other roles within the company, usually as a Board Chair or other C-Level executive.

Twenty-three CEOs were terminated by their Boards, while 14 left amid scandal this year.

Another 136 found new positions in other companies.

Reported reasons for CEO turnover

The Government/Non-Profit sector leads all industries in CEO turnover this year, with 276 departures, followed by the Financial sector, which announced 154 CEO changes. Companies in the Technology sector, referred to as “Computer,” had the third-highest number of CEO changes this year, with 152. Companies in this sector include software and web developers as well as companies that make hardware for personal computers.

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Contact Colleen Madden Blumenfeld for more data or to set up an interview with SVP Andy Challenger.

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