It’s being called the Great CEO Exodus of 2019.
Through August, U.S. companies saw 1,009 CEO departures, a record figure for a year’s first eight months, according to the executive coaching firm Challenger, Grey, and Christmas. In August alone, 159 U.S. chief executives departed their positions, the most ever in a month, Then in a single day in September, the CEOs of WeWork, Juul, and eBay all departed, making headlines–and causing considerable head-scratching.
The large number of departures could be due to greater pressure from boards: One study suggests that 59 percent of them appear to be the result of executives being forced out, regardless of the official explanation. Exechange, a service that tracks executive departures, has found that over the 12 months ending September 30, more executives seem to have been pushed out than average. “More than one in two CEOs stepped down under high pressure,” Daniel Schauber, founder of Exechange, wrote in the firm’s recent report.
These are the most fascinating and remarkable executive exits of this year.
7. Under Armour’s Kevin Plank
Plank has been chief executive of Under Armour since 1996, when he was a college student who started the athletic apparel brand from his grandmother’s basement in Washington, D.C. But Plank, 47, a highly visible CEO whose name became tied to his company’s identity, had become embroiled in controversy for his support of President Donald Trump, and for accompanying athletes and other executives on company-funded trips to strip clubs. Amid slumping North American sales, Under Armour announced on October 22 that Plank would be replaced by current chief operating officer Patrik Frisk. As of January 1, 2020, Frisk will be the company’s chief executive, and Plank will become executive chairman and brand chief, Under Armour said.
6. Crossfit’s Jeff Cain
It’s been two years since Jeff Cain took the CrossFit reins from founder Greg Glassman. On September 1, after implementing many changes and trimming the organization over the previous 18 months, he departed. The fitness company had been noticeably silent on the matter, leaving sports blogs and Reddit communities to ponder what happened. A company spokesperson confirmed the executive departure to Inc.in October, and said Cain hasn’t been replaced as CEO; instead, Glassman has decided to “implement a flatter organizational structure whereby he, his department heads, and other core employees meet regularly to discuss tactics and strategy.”
5. REI’s Jerry Stritzke
The member-run co-op has an unusual organizational structure, and issued an unusual announcement this year from the desk of president and CEO Jerry Stritzke. In February he noted that his undisclosed personal relationship with the head of another organization in the outdoor industry left “perceived conflicts of interest.” In February Kent, Washington-based REI announced that COO Eric Artz would step in as interim chief executive the following month.
4. eBay’s Devin Wenig
EBay’s recently revamped board had been exploring strategy options, including possible sales of parts of its business such as StubHub and eBay Classifieds. Chief executive Devin Wenig was opposed to the board’s efforts, and in September, simmering conflict reached full boil. Wenig tweeted on September 25: “In the past few weeks it became clear that I was not on the same page as my new board. Whenever that happens, it’s best for everyone to turn that page over.”
3. Juul’s Kevin Burns
Just hours before Wenig’s departure became known, the controversial nicotine vape company Juul said its chief executive Kevin Burns resigned. His departure came amid claims by health officials that vaping has reached epidemic proportions among young people, and that a mysterious lung illness had sickened more than 500 people and killed at least seven. Burns was succeeded by K.C. Crosthwaite, a former executive of Marlboro-maker Altria Group, which last year took a $12.8 billion stake in Juul. Altria also said it was ending merger conversations with fellow tobacco giant Philip Morris.
2. Overstock’s Patrick Byrne
Overstock has been a public company since 2002, though one run by its founder and lightning-rod-in-chief Patrick Byrne–known for his bizarre cryptocurrency bets, niche politics, and a losing libel lawsuit–for two decades. In August Byrne made strange and controversial comments and online posts about the “deep state,” and boasted he’d been an FBI informant after a romantic relationship with alleged Russian agent Maria Butina. Shortly afterward he resigned from the company.
1. WeWork’s Adam Neumann
In the most dramatic high-profile chief executive exit since that of Uber’s Travis Kalanick, and on the very same day in September on which the executives of Juul and eBay announced their departures, Adam Neumann said he’d step down from the company he’d founded a decade earlier. In the lackluster lead-up to the We Company’s initial public offering, Neumann’s grip on the company had already been weakened; the company filed an amended S-1 that showed his voting shares had been diminished by half.
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