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Retail CEO Exits Reach Second-Highest Record Since 2002

In the past year, US companies reported a 55 percent increase in CEO transitions compared to 2022, finds Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The 1,914 CEO departures in 2023 set a record since the firm commenced tracking data in 2002. The firm monitors CEO changes in public US businesses as well as private, government, and nonprofit organizations.

“There was a lot of reticence among CEOs to leave their organizations in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “COVID rocked retail in a really significant way. Boards didn’t want to make changes, CEOs themselves didn’t want to leave. And now as that storm has passed, I think there’s been this pent-up demand for people to leave.”

Challenger said the pandemic accelerated changes in consumer preferences, which has forced companies’ boards of directors to look for new strategies and leaders to adapt.

In 2023, the retail sector experienced fifty-two CEO departures, marking its second-highest count since Challenger, Gray & Christmas began monitoring such transitions. This figure was more than double the twenty-one CEO turnovers recorded in 2022, yet it fell short of the industry’s record of 63 CEO departures in 2019.

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“Retail, probably, has seen the biggest shakeup in its leadership for a long time,” Challenger said.

Despite recent advancements, the number of women holding CEO positions remains significantly lower than their male counterparts across various industries. However, the percentage of female CEOs is higher across all sectors when compared to the specific situation within the retail industry.

“When we looked at replacement CEOs [in all industries], the highest percentage of new CEOs coming in that we’ve ever tracked were women,” said Challenger. “It’s a positive number, but it’s only 28 percent, not even close to equity.”

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