A Changing of the CEO Guard?

Understanding the Trend Behind Record CEO Exits

CEOs are leaving their positions in record numbers this year—and not all of them voluntarily. What’s behind the trend?

In a surprising turn of events, CEOs are bidding farewell to their corner offices and embracing the beach this summer, but not due to remote work. Rather, they are leaving their jobs in unprecedented numbers. Recent data shows that May witnessed the highest-ever monthly total of CEO exits, with 224 leaders stepping down, many involuntarily. This year’s first five months saw an 18% increase in CEO departures compared to the previous year. Despite the improving economy, experts believe this trend will persist. What factors are driving this changing of the CEO guard?

Navigating Challenging Times:

During the pandemic and its aftermath, CEOs played a crucial role in steering their companies through crisis. However, experts argue that some may have extended their tenures beyond an optimal point. After three arduous years in one of the most challenging business environments in recent history, CEOs are emerging fatigued and choosing to pull the rip cord on their own careers. Retirement has been cited as the reason for 182 CEO departures this year, a 17% increase compared to the same period last year.

Performance and Perception:

Both the performance and perception of CEOs have contributed to the current wave of departures. With firm revenues substantially down last year, coupled with weakened financial results compared to previous years, bonuses and incentives for CEOs have taken a hit. Proxy filings for year-end 2022 indicate flat or declining CEO compensation. Additionally, some CEOs have made misjudgments in interpreting political and social developments or underestimated the boundaries they could push with their staff.

The Unexplained and Confidential Searches:

Interestingly, boards have provided no official explanation for CEO departures in a significant number of cases. This lack of transparency has seen a staggering 89% increase in unexplained departures compared to the previous year, observing a rise in confidential CEO searches. This secrecy serves to protect a current CEO’s reputation while allowing boards to capitalize on the opportunity to pivot before the next wave of transformational change.

Tech Industry Influence:

The tech industry, known for its rapid pace and innovation, leads the private sector in CEO exits. Old-fashioned over hiring practices and a renewed emphasis on financial discipline have driven a 44% increase in tech CEOs leaving their positions this year. Boards are reevaluating the need for more operationally focused CEOs who can navigate the complexities of the industry.

The Need for Enterprise Leaders:

Amid this shifting landscape, the trend underscores the importance for boards to focus on developing enterprise leaders who possess the ability to both run and change businesses simultaneously. Only 14% of current leaders possess the necessary skills and traits to fulfill this dual mandate. The level of engagement required from leaders to manage performance and drive change is unparalleled.


As CEOs continue to depart in record numbers, a multitude of factors shape this changing of the CEO guard. Retirement, performance and perception issues, unexplained departures, and shifts in industry requirements all play a role. Boards must prioritize the development of enterprise leaders capable of navigating the complex business landscape of today. By doing so, organizations can ensure a smooth succession process and cultivate leaders who possess the skills needed to drive performance and create impactful change.


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