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CEO departures hit a new high in October, on pace for a record year

Key Points
  • October marked the highest month on record with 172 chief executives leaving their posts, according to business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
  • Chief executives from SAP, ServiceNow, Nike and Under Armour said farewell last month. McDonald's Steve Easterbrook was fired this week.
  • 2019 is on track to be the highest number of CEO departures on record.
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Here's why a record number of CEOs left their posts in October

In the past two weeks, McDonald's and Under Armour lost their CEOs, continuing the record-setting pace of exits this year by the heads of U.S. businesses.

October marked the highest month on record with 172 chief executives leaving their posts, according to business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

CEO departures hit a record high for the year through October, with 1,332 U.S. based companies announcing CEO departures. The firm started tracking CEO departures in 2002, a period that includes the financial crisis. This year is on pace to have the most departures on record.

"October was marked by a number of high-profile CEO exits, with many being held accountable for various missteps, whether in their professional handling of the company or in their personal lives," the firm's vice president, Andrew Challenger, said in a note to clients.

Just this week, fast-food giant McDonald's fired its CEO Steve Easterbrook for having a consensual relationship with an employee. Late last month, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who built his athletic-ware company from scratch in his grandmother's basement, said he was stepping down as CEO on Jan. 1. Plank's announcement came right before the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission said they are investigating Under Armour for its accounting practices.

Not all CEOs are leaving because of board decisions or to retire. October brought a fair amount of C-suite shuffle.

Bill McDermott stepped down as CEO of SAP after more than nine years running the German software company, to replace John Donahoe as the CEO of ServiceNow. Donahoe is jumping ship to Nike to replace longtime CEO Mark Parker. Donahoe was formerly CEO of eBay and is chairman of PayPal.

Challenger tracks CEO changes at companies that have been in business for at least two years, with a minimum of 10 employees.

The technology sector announced the second-highest number of CEO changes this year, 181. That number is up 24% from the number of tech CEOs out of the job last year through October.