Turnover at the chief executive level fell 7.3% from December’s total of 96 to 89 in January. It is 59.4% lower than the 219 CEOs who left their posts in January 2020, according to a new report released Wednesday by global outplacement and business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“CEO turnover has fallen steadily since a record-setting 2019, when an average of 137 CEOs left each month. Despite the pandemic-induced Recession, companies appear to be holding on to their leaders, taking a wait-and-see approach,” said Andrew Challenger, Senior Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

CEO turnover was led by Government/Non-Profit entities and Health Care/Products companies, which each announced 13 CEO changes. Another ten CEOs left Financial firms, and seven CEOs left Technology companies.

Incoming women CEOs, who reached the highest rate of new CEOs on record in 2020 according to Challenger tracking, hit a setback in January. Just under 18% of new CEOs were women, compared to nearly 24% of new CEOs in January 2020 and 22.7% of new CEOs overall in 2020.

“Women are leaving the workforce at an alarming rate. The pandemic has hit industries primarily employing women hardest, and child care and compensation issues which continually plague women are being exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Challenger.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are of paramount importance heading into 2021, so we expect more women will be named to the CEO role this year, but even at its record high, the rate of incoming women CEOs is still less than a quarter of all incoming CEOs. There’s still a long way to go,” he added.

Last year, over one-third of incoming women CEOs were in Government/Non-Profit companies, which include charities, foundations, school systems, transportation authorities, and other government-funded entities. Another 10% went to Health Care/Products companies and nearly 8% head hospitals.

Distribution of Incoming Women CEOs by Industry, 2020

Distribution of Incoming Women CEOs by Industry, 2020

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©

The majority of CEOs retired in January with 29, while 28 stepped down from the role, but remained with the company, usually as a Board Chair or other C-level executive. Five CEOs left due to an acquisition or merger, with 27 leaving for that reason last year. Another CEO left due to Bankruptcy. Ten CEOs left due to bankruptcy in all of 2020.

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