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Last year, U.S. companies announced 55% more CEO changes than in 2022, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The 1,914 departures in 2023 set a record since the firm started tracking the data in 2002. The firm tracks public U.S. businesses, along with private, government and nonprofit companies that have CEO positions.

“There was a lot of reticence among CEOs to leave their organizations in the middle of the Covid crisis,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Covid rocked retail in a really significant way. Boards didn’t want to make changes, CEOs themselves didn’t want to leave. And now as that storm has passed, I think there’s been this pent-up demand for people to leave.”

Challenger said the pandemic accelerated changes in consumer preferences, which has forced companies’ boards of directors to look for new strategies and leaders to adapt.

The retail industry in 2023 saw 52 CEO departures, its second-highest number since Challenger, Gray & Christmas started tracking them, and more than double the 21 CEO turnovers in 2022, according to the firm’s data. It was below 2019′s record 63 CEO departures in the industry.

“Retail, probably, has seen the biggest shakeup in its leadership for a long time,” Challenger said.

Despite recent progress, there are far fewer women than men in CEO positions across industries. But the percentage of female CEOs is higher across all sectors than it is in the retail industry specifically.

“When we looked at replacement CEOs [in all industries], the highest percentage of new CEOs coming in that we’ve ever tracked were women,” said Challenger. “It’s a positive number, but it’s only 28%, not even close to equity.”

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SVP Andy Challenger is available for interviews on the job market, economy, and job search process. Please contact Colleen Madden Blumenfeld for more information.

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