Interesting, somewhat divergent reports on CEO longevity appeared recently from some big-name research consultancies. One, a study from Equilar compiled for CNNMoney, shows tenure for S&P 500 CEOs has increased nearly a full year since 2005. As the CNN report states,
A decade ago, CEOs typically spent five years at the helm of one of America’s top 500 publicly traded companies. It might seem like a small increase, but it’s a notable shift from the Great Recession and financial crisis when a lot of executives got fired. Those who survived — or came on board in the new wave — are keeping their posts.
In fact, more specifically, according to Equilar’s report on the study it performed, “in 2014, the average S&P 500 CEO had served an average of 7.4 years, and 6.0 at the median. Ten years ago, those figures were 6.6 and 5.2, respectively.”
Equilar claims there’s “one simple explanation” for the rising average: a collection of long-standing CEOs at the top of the list, people like Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, who’s held his post for 45 years, and L Brands’ Leslie Wexner, who sits at the top of the list with 52 years at his company. As soon as these top guns start to retire, you’ll see the average tenures start to fall, says Equilar.
But for now, they’re a full year higher than they were a decade ago.
Juxtapose that with the latest report from Challenger Gray & Christmas, as reported in the Center Valley Business Times — showing a jump in CEO departures toward the end of 2015. Specifically, December CEO exits were 33 percent higher than the 86 changes in November and 7 percent higher than the 107 CEO departures in December 2014.
(Despite the December surge, though, the yearly total of 1,221 CEO departures in 2015 was 9 percent lower than the 1,341 departures in 2014, according to the Challenger report.)
So are CEOs staying or going? Hard to say.
But whatever the numbers tell us, this post can also serve as a reminder that it’s never too early to put your best foot forward in devising the best CEO-succession plan for your organization. This post by me almost two years ago suggested then there was still much improvement needed in this area. (That March 2014 post also shows a decline in CEO turnover at the start of that year.)
At least we can say, with CEO turnover holding fairly steady and tenure on the rise, there’s some time, at least, to get succession at the top post right.