March 2021 CEO Succession Report

Turnover at the chief executive level rose 6% from February’s total of 106 to 112 in March, according to a new report released Wednesday by global outplacement and business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Last month’s total is up 19% from the 94 CEOs who left their posts last March. First quarter CEO changes are up 3% from the final quarter of 2020. So far this year, 307 CEO changes have been recorded, down 30% from the 441 announced through the first quarter of 2020.

 

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Challenger Analysis

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

Indeed, many companies will offer more work-from-home or hybrid remote work arrangements for their teams going forward, according to a recent Challenger survey. Companies also reported a renewed push for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts; flexibility for caregivers; and mental health support. (Find our surveys here and here.)

“How will companies manage a more remote workforce? How will leaders engage their teams and still promote the camaraderie and morale needed to maintain or grow productivity? As priorities shift, a leadership change is often required,” said Challenger.

“How will companies manage a more remote workforce? How will leaders engage their teams and still promote the camaraderie and morale needed to maintain or grow productivity? As priorities shift, a leadership change is often required,” said Challenger.

Women in the c-suite

While companies report a desire to create opportunities for diverse talent, the rate of new CEOs who are women fell to 18.9% in March from 20% in February. It is down from the 23% of new women CEOs who were announced through March 2020.

“Millions of women left the labor force last year. Amidst all of the challenges leaders face as they reopen offices and engage their teams, they must not lose sight of the necessity to attract and retain women talent,” said Challenger.

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Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Industries with the most leadership change

CEO turnover is led by Government/Non-Profit entities, which include charities, foundations, school systems, transportation authorities, and other government-funded entities. This sector announced 52 CEO changes in the first quarter, a 28% decrease compared to the 72 announced through Q1 2020.

Another 41 CEOs left Health Care/Products firms, 7% higher than the 38 who left through the same period last year. Both Entertainment/Leisure companies and Technology firms have announced 30 CEO changes.

Reasons for change

The majority of CEOs (95) stepped down into other roles this year, usually as a Board Chair or other C-Level executive. Another 76 retired this year, while 24 found new opportunities. Eleven CEOs left due to an acquisition or merger, two left due to differences with the Board, and one left due to Bankruptcy.

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