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  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Lisa Green 

Friday, January 11, 2019 12:50 pm

Challenger: 4th-quarter CEO turnover highest since at least 2002

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Turnover among C-suite leaders in December pushed fourth-quarter departures to a level not seen in more than a decade, according to one global executive coaching firm.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. said 129 chief executive officers left their posts in the final month of 2018, capping the highest quarterly total for CEO changes since the firm began tracking in 2002.

Last month's total was nearly 36 percent higher than the 95 CEOs who left their posts in December 2017, Challenger said in a news release Wednesday. It is 12.2 percent lower than the 147 CEO changes recorded the previous month.

Challenger, based in the Chicago area, said it tracked 1,452 CEO changes in 2018, 25 percent higher than the 1,160 top executives who left their posts in 2017. It was just shy of the highest annual total on record in 2008, when 1,484 CEOs left.

Many of the departures were attributed to retirements, but ethical issues forced some leadership turnover.

The final quarter of 2018 saw 425 CEO changes, the highest quarterly total on record. It was 44.6 percent higher than the 294 CEOs who left their posts in the final quarter of 2017.

"While the job market is strong, with low unemployment and strong hiring numbers, the stock market is in near-constant flux; trade concerns loom in many industries, including manufacturing and technology; and the regulatory environment may change with a new Congress," Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement. "Boards are anticipating a changing environment and putting leadership in place who are capable of succeeding in it."

Boards are also strictly enforcing company policies regarding relationship and/or ethics issues, the news release said. Eight CEOs left amid sexual misconduct allegations and another four left because of allegations of professional misconduct.

Challenger said 403 CEOs retired this year, about 27 percent of all top executive changes. This is on par with 2017, when 320 of 1,160 CEOs retired. Another 283 CEOs resigned from their positions, while 355 stepped down into other roles within the company, usually as a board chair or other C-Level executive.

Twenty-three CEOs were terminated by their boards, while 14 left amid scandal in 2018, the firm said. Another 136 found new positions in other companies.

The Government/Non-Profit sector led all industries in CEO turnover for 2018, with 276 departures, followed by the financial sector, which announced 154 CEO changes.

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears every other week as a column in The Journal Gazette's Sunday Business section.