Employers at U.S.-based companies announced 135 chief executive officer changes last month, 8.9% higher than the 124 CEO changes announced in February, according to a report released Wednesday by global outplacement and business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

March’s total was 40.6% higher than the 96 CEO exits announced in the same month last year. In the first quarter, 416 CEOs have left their posts, 22% higher than the 341 CEOs who left their posts during the same period in 2018.

First quarter CEO changes are 2% lower than the 425 CEO changes announced in the previous quarter. It is the highest first quarter total since Challenger began tracking CEO changes in 2002.

“We are seeing considerable churn in the chief executive role. Companies are grappling with changing consumer behavior and new technologies disrupting almost all industries,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Challenger tracks CEO changes at companies that have been in business for at least two years, with a minimum of ten employees.

“A difficult business environment, with economic uncertainty, is causing boards to make changes in their leadership ranks,” he added.

  • In the first quarter, of the 331 named CEO replacements, 263 were men, or 79.5%. Twenty-seven of those men replaced women leaders. Of the 68 women who took over the top spot, 45 of them replaced male CEOs.
  • So far this year, women make up 20.5% of CEO replacements, compared to 23.7% in the first quarter last year. By the end of last year, women comprised 22.7% of all CEO replacements.

Companies in the Government/Non-Profit sector lead all industries in CEO changes with 95, 36 of which occurred in March. Health Care/Products companies follow with 41. Financial companies announced 37 CEO changes in the first quarter, including Wells Fargo’s Tim Sloan, who announced his intention to leave in March. Technology firms follow with 34 CEO changes in the first quarter.

Through March, 169 chief executives stepped down into other positions within the company, usually as a Chairperson or other member of the C-Suite. Another 126 CEOs retired, while 34 found new positions in other companies. Three CEOs reportedly left due to scandal, while two left due to professional misconduct allegations. Another two left due to alleged sexual misconduct.



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

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