Challenger CEO Turnover Report: Highest CEO Exits on Record; Previous Record in January 2019

Published June 22, 2023

224 CEOs Leave Posts in May

The number of CEO changes at U.S. companies hit the highest total for a single month on record in May with 224, up 52% from the 147 in April. May’s total is up 49% from the 150 CEOs who left their posts in the same month one year prior, according to a report released Thursday by global outplacement and business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

May 2023 CEO Challenger Report CEO Departures By Month; 2020, 2021, 2022, Jan - May 2023

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©

May’s total is the highest total for a month since Challenger began tracking CEO exits in 2002, after three consecutive months where CEO exits were the highest for that month on record. The next highest month for CEO exits occurred in January 2019 when 219 CEOs left their posts.

“It is significant that so many CEOs are leaving, especially since the last time we saw numbers this high was just prior to Covid-19 lockdowns. Certainly, companies are dealing with some uncertainty heading into the second half of the year surrounding recession concerns, disruptive technology, and high interest rates,” said Andrew Challenger, workplace expert and Senior Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

So far this year, 789 CEOs have left their posts, up 18% from the 668 who left their posts in the first five months of 2022. This is the highest January through May total on record.

Women CEOs

The rate of new CEOs who are women fell in May to 28.8% from 29.5% in April. This remains higher than the rate through the first five months of 2022, when 25% of new CEOs who were women. Meanwhile, women CEOs leaving the top spot ticked up to 22% through May 2023 from 21% through April, and up from 19% during the corresponding period in 2022.

“The talent pipeline for women grew during post-MeToo and during the pandemic, when calls for diversity in the executive ranks were loudest. Some of the rhetoric surrounding diversity initiatives has cooled, and while the public discussion may have fallen, it would be a mistake for companies to stop promoting and supporting women in the C-suite,” said Challenger.

Where Are CEO Exits Happening?

Government/Non-Profit led last month with 58 CEO exits, with 42 being heads of Non-Profits. The sector has seen a total of 182 exits this year, up 18% from the 154 announced through May last year.

The Technology sector, which has seen the most layoffs for the industry since 2002 according to the latest Challenger Report, followed with 21 in May. For the year, Technology has announced 91 CEO exits, an increase of 44% from the 63 CEO exits recorded through the same period in 2022.

The Health Care/Products sector and the Hospitals industry both announced 18 CEO exits last month. Hospitals have announced a total of 80 CEO changes this year, an increase of 70% from the 47 Hospital CEOs who left their posts during the same period in 2022.

“Hospital systems are struggling in a number of areas post-pandemic. Talent shortages, retention, and wages for staff are an issue, while cost of care is rising. Many systems are struggling to operate, and new leadership is needed to attempt to turn things around,” said Challenger.

Reasons for Exits

Companies are most often not giving reasons for their CEOs’ departures at 266, up 89% from the 141 who left without reason last year.

Another 182 CEOs retired this year, up 17% from the 155 who retired in the same period last year.

Four CEOs left amid professional misconduct allegations, such as fraud or mismanagement of funds. Challenger did not track any professional misconduct allegations in 2022 and two in 2021.  One CEO left due to sexual harassment allegations, the same as in 2022.

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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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