CEO turnover is the highest it’s been in 8 years

The New Year typically brings upheaval among the upper echelon of America’s corporations — but this January saw the highest number of chief executives exit their posts in nearly eight years.

Altogether, 132 CEOs stepped down in January, matching the figure set back in February 2010, according to data released this month by executive recruiting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. January’s total represented a 39% increase from December and a 3% uptick year-over-year.

More than a quarter of the departing CEOs will remain at their company in some other capacity — mostly as board members — though six former CEOs stepped down into another C-suite role.

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Among the more high-profile CEO departures were Staples chief Shira Goodman, who rose through the ranks after joining the company in 1992, and Papa John’s PZZA, +1.44%  founder John Schnatter, who left months after criticizing NFL players participating in protests during the national anthem.

On average, January typically sees the most CEO exits out of any month, because the end of the fiscal year presents a convenient time to make management changes — but this year’s figure was well above the average monthly figure for January of 106.4.

The GOP tax bill could’ve had a hand in this exodus. “Last month’s high total may signal that companies are coming to grips with how recent legislation may impact operations, and have chosen new leadership to guide their companies through any changes,” John Challenger, the firm’s CEO, said in the report.

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Age likely also factored in: The average tenure for exiting CEOs was the highest Challenger had ever recorded, at 17 years. Of the 132 CEOs who stepped down, 38 of them were retiring.

Sexual harassment scandals have also played a small but growing role in CEO turnover lately. Last year, 11 CEO replacements happened because of sexual misconduct allegations — a 266% increase from 2016, Challenger, Gray and Christmas found in a previous report.

That trend could well continue into February: The chief executives of Wynn Resorts WYNN, +1.79% Lululemon LULU, +1.27%  and The Humane Society have all exited following allegations of sexual misconduct.

While corporate leadership is somewhat in flux, that doesn’t inherently mean more women will lead companies in 2018. Women only represented 18% of CEO replacements in 2017, matching the percentage set in 2016, Challenger’s previous report found. And other research has indicated that the stigma surrounding female leaders could prevent them from rising through the corporate ranks to become chief executives.

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