CEO Departures Hit a Record High in January — Here’s Why So Many Are Exiting

Chief executive turnover hit a record high in January 2020, according to a new report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The executive coaching firm reports that 219 CEOs left U.S.-based companies in January 2020, 27% more than the previous monthly record of 172, set in October 2019. Compared with January 2019, when 157 departures were reported, CEO exits have jumped by 39.5%. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, exits have been trending upward since August 2018.

Despite the high turnover rate, the majority of CEOs stayed at their companies in some capacity, according to the firm, usually serving as a board chair or member or moving into another C-suite role.

“This suggests that, while a record number of CEOs are leaving that post, the vast majority of companies are generally happy with their performance,” explained vice president Andrew Challenger.

At the same time, most companies don’t seem to be choosing replacements groomed by their exiting leaders. Of 198 CEO appointments tracked in January, Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that 107 were hired from outside their new companies, compared to 91 internal hires.

Within the shoe space, January saw a number of high-profile executive appointments and exits. Sequential Brands Group, Payless ShoeSource, J.Crew, Gap Inc., Geox, Toms Shoes, Altuzarra and H&M were among the brands that appointed new leaders to the CEO spot. Geox, Gap Inc. and H&M promoted internally to fill their top posts, while Sequential, Altuzarra, Toms, J.Crew and Payless hired talent from elsewhere.

The high turnover month perhaps shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, Challenger noted, since  “January is typically a busy month for CEO turnover, as companies make leadership changes after assessing business conditions at the end of the fiscal year.”

“January is the beginning of the fiscal year for many companies, and a good time to make decisions about the direction of the company,” he continued.

With nearly two weeks of February in the books, several companies have already made changes at their top posts. Saks Off Fifth appointed Paige Thomas as president, Miu Miu named Benedetta Petruzzo its CEO and MatchesFashion announced Ajay Kavan as CEO.

Tapestry made a trifecta of changes: It appointed Liz Fraser CEO and brand president of Kate Spade; the company named Giorgio Sarné CEO and brand president of Stuart Weitzman; and it promoted Yann Bozec to president of Tapestry Asia Pacific from his prior role as Tapestry China president. Bozec continues to hold his role as president and CEO of Coach China.

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