The Biggest CEO Departures in Recent Years And Why They Happened

The CEO of a company plays an important role in every organization. Their job is to steer the organization in the right direction while keeping the company financially stable. In addition to this, they also need to be a role model for the employees and guide the company to success.

However, things don’t always go as planned and the CEO of a company may call it quits. There could be a variety of reasons for a CEO’s exit like a toxic corporate culture, internal dispute or a change in the wants of the customer. Here’s a look at some of the biggest CEO departures in recent years.

Matthias Muller And Volkswagen

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Photo by Carsten Koall via Getty Images
Photo by Carsten Koall via Getty Images

Matthias Muller was named CEO of Volkswagen in 2015 when he replaced the company’s previous CEO, Martin Winterkorn. Under Winterkorn, Volkswagen developed technology for its test vehicles to make it look like the company was emitting lower amounts of carbon dioxide when in reality it wasn’t. The company had to pay severe fines for its illegal activities.

Before Matthias Muller took over as CEO, he had been in charge of Volkswagen’s subsidiary, Porche. When he took over Volkswagen, Muller made changes to the existing management team and invested in electric vehicles. He stepped down in 2018 and was replaced by Herbert Diess.

Lloyd Blankfein And Goldman Sachs

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Photo by John Moore via Getty Images
Photo by John Moore via Getty Images

Lloyd Blankfein remained the CEO of Goldman Sachs for 12 years and decided to step down from the company in 2018 after his long tenure. Over the years, Blankfein grew through the ranks at the prestigious bank from VP to President and COO.

However, when Blankfein left the firm, the share price of the company was down 33 percent and they were entangled in a controversy that involved allegations the company was involved in a money-laundering scheme from a Malaysian Fund. Lloyd Blankfein was replaced by David Solomon.

Indra Nooyi And Pepsi Co.

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Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images
Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images

Indra Nooyi was noted for being one of the few female CEOs of a large multinational corporation. She held the position of CEO at Pepsi Co. for many years before she decided to step down in 2018. She was with the company for nearly 24 years and was heavily involved in the impact that Pepsi Co. has had on the food and beverage industry.

However, Nooyi has also received a lot of criticisms, especially from health food producers but proved them wrong as the company had a revenue figure of $63.5 billion when she departed the company. The share price of the company has only continued to grow since her departure.

Kevin Systrom And Instagram

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Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for The Wall Street Journal and WSJ. Magazine
Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for The Wall Street Journal and WSJ. Magazine

Kevin Systrom is the founder of one of the most popular social media apps in the world, Instagram. While he was still a student at Stanford University, he was offered a job at Facebook but turned it down. He then went on to found Instagram and eventually sold the company to Facebook in 2012.

When the company was bought out, Systrom continued to remain CEO of the company and earned $400 million dollars from the sale due to his 40 percent ownership in the company. Unfortunately, tensions rose between the Instagram team and Facebook which led to Systrom’s departure from the company in 2018.

Les Mooves And CBS

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Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Venice Family Clinic
Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Venice Family Clinic

Les Moonves served at the CEO of the cable television network, CBS until he made headlines in 2018 when multiple women stepped forward and accused him of inappropriate behavior and sexual assault. Moonves denied all the allegations but he was soon forced out of the company amidst mounting legal troubles.

Due to the circumstance of his departure, CBS announced that Moonves would not receive any money as part of his severance package since he violated the company’s policies listed in the contract. The CEO still has a net worth of $800 million which includes his stake in CBS.

Martin Sorrell And WPP

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Photo by Mark Runnacles via Getty Images
Photo by Mark Runnacles via Getty Images

Martin Sorrell was the CEO of one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world, WPP. He managed the company for nearly 33 years before he stepped down as CEO in 2013. His sudden departure came after allegations of misconduct with another employee. While an external law firm was hired to investigate this, the results were never disclosed.

Sorrell was considered an icon in the advertising industry and was in charge of numerous successful companies over the years. A recent merger with WPP resulted in annual revenues of $19.3 billion. After Sorrell’s departure, he was replaced by COO of WPP, Mark Read.

Ian Read And Pfizer

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Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP via Getty Images
Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP via Getty Images

Ian Read was the CEO of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Pfizer. He had a long tenure with the company and started as an operational auditor and rose through the ranks to serve as CFO of the Mexico entity and as country manager in Brazil.

During his reign at the company, Ian Read headed numerous foreign acquisitions that would lower taxes for Pfizer in the U.S. However, he was unsuccessful in his efforts and missed out on numerous opportunities. He stepped down from his position in 2018.

Sergio Marchionne And Fiat Chrysler

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Photo by Mark Thompson via Getty Images
Photo by Mark Thompson via Getty Images

Sergio Marchionne was the CEO of the auto giant Fiat Chrysler and passed away in 2018 due to complications from surgery. He was a true icon in the industry and brought about numerous improvements to Fiat and Chrysler when he took over as CEO in 2004. The company’s value has increased by tenfold during his tenure.

When Fiat merged with Chrysler, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and he was instrumental in the resurgence of the company. Marchionne was also well respected among the employees in the company as he was incredibly motivational and always had a positive demeanor.

Bob Sauerberg And Conde Nast

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Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Bob Sauerberg served as CEO of Conde Nast from 2016 and in November of 2018, it was announced that he would step down as CEO. His departure came months after the turnaround strategy he implemented to make the publishing company solvent again. Those plans, the company’s leaders said, would continue after his departure.

Sauerberg was with the company since 2004 and during his time at the company, he launched Conde Nast Entertainment. His replacement will take on a more powerful role in the company and oversee the firms international entities as well.

Adam Neumann And We Companies (WeWork)

WeWork Presents Second Annual Creator Global Finals At Microsoft Theater
Michael Kovac/Getty Images for WeWork
Michael Kovac/Getty Images for WeWork

In recently failing unicorn news it was revealed that We Company founder Adam Neumann, one of the masterminds behind WeWork, will be exiting the multi-billion startup he has been leading for years. In a soon to be finalized deal with SoftBank, Neumann will receive a $1.7 billion exit package.In recent months the company fell from grace, pulling it’s $47 billion IPO as the company’s valuation has plummeted to somewhere in the range of $6 billion to $10 billion. SoftBank, We Companies biggest investor, is paying Neumann to walk away from the company. Among his total compensation is a $185 million “consulting fee” and a $500 million line of credit that he will use to pay off other banks he personally borrowed money from.

Brian Krzanich And Intel

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Photo by Steve Jennings via Getty Images for TechCrunch
Photo by Steve Jennings via Getty Images for TechCrunch

Brian Krzanich was the CEO of tech giant intel and departed from the company in 2018, the same year they celebrated 50 years in the business. His departure came after it was revealed that he had a consensual relationship with a subordinate which was against company policy.

Krzanich worked for Intel for many years where he started as an engineer in a factory in New Mexico and rose through the organization’s ranks. Robert H. Swan, Intel’s CFO, was announced as his replacement. Krzanich quickly found a new job as CEO of Illinois based tech company, CDK Global.

Mark Fields And Ford

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Photo by Drew Angerer via Getty Images
Photo by Drew Angerer via Getty Images

Mark Fields was named CEO of Ford in 2014 but had been with the company for many years prior to promotion. During his tenure, Fields was able to successfully increase sales in the company but Ford’s stock price dropped by almost 40 percent during the same period.

Chairman Bill Ford was not pleased with the way things were moving and believed that Ford needed to invest in self-driving and electric cars to keep up with the competition. Mark Fields was eventually let go in 2017 and replaced by Jim Hackett who previously headed the Smart Units team in the company, a part of the business that focuses on self-driving cars.

Jeff Immelt And GE

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Photo by Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
Photo by Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

Jeff Immelt took over as CEO of GE in 2001 and during his 15-year tenure, he brought about numerous changes in the company like reducing the financial value of the conglomerate unit from $58 billion to $10 billion.

He also invested in sectors such as jet engines, hospital services, and oil and gas. However, after the financial crisis of 2008, the sales of GE continued to decline until he left in 2015. Since the time he took over as CEO, the stock price of GE fell by 25 percent. Immelt was replaced by John Flannery.

Marissa Meyer And Yahoo

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Photo by Paul Morigi via Getty Images for FORTUNE
Photo by Paul Morigi via Getty Images for FORTUNE

Marissa Meyer was one of Google’s first employees where she rose through the ranks to become one of the top executives in the company. However, amidst tensions in the company with a fellow engineer, Meyer left Google to join Yahoo as its CEO in 2012.

During her tenure, Yahoo’s revenue remained stable while their net income turned into a net loss in 2015. In 2016, it was announced that Verizon would buy Yahoo for $5 billion and Meyer officially stepped down from the company in 2017 during the transition period.

Bill McNabb And Vanguard

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Photo by Thomas Yau/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Photo by Thomas Yau/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

McNabb joined Vanguard in 1986 where he rose through the ranks and was named CEO of the company in 2008. During his tenure, McNabb helped increase the company’s holdings, making it one of the biggest asset managers in the world. The size of the assets grew from $1.25 trillion to nearly $4 trillion under his leadership.

However, there was a planned line of succession and Bill McNabb stepped down as CEO in 2017. He was replaced by another long-standing employee in the company, Tim Buckley who had been with the company for 26 years.

Travis Kalanick And Uber

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Photo by Justin Sullivan via Getty Images
Photo by Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Travis Kalanick if the founder of the ride-sharing app Uber and was known for being a ruthless leader whose main goal was to increase the company’s growth. He would capitalize on the media attention and use a political agenda to influence public opinion. This worked well in terms of fundraising as the company gained a valuation of $68 billion.

The company was soon hit with numerous allegations as a former employee wrote a blog post on the sexist and toxic work environment at Uber. Kalanick vehemently denied the allegations and soon another employee of Uber was sued for trying to steal state secrets. Amidst all this legal trouble, Travis Kalanick stepped down as CEO in 2017.

Mickey Drexler And J Crew

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Photo by Michael Cohen via Getty Images for The New York Times
Photo by Michael Cohen via Getty Images for The New York Times

Mickey Dexler was the CEO of J Crew and prior to his involvement in the company, he worked for its sister company, Gap Inc, for many years. He was often referred to as the ‘Merchant Prince’ as he successfully turned GAP Inc from a small denim company into the massive clothing chain it is today. During his time at the company, sales increased from $400 million to $14 billion.

After he took over J Crew, he led the company to an IPO but sales started to slip. One of the reasons for this is because the company was not able to adapt to online selling as quickly as its competitors.

Ursula Burns And Xerox

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Photo by Paul Morigi via Getty Images for FORTUNE
Photo by Paul Morigi via Getty Images for FORTUNE

Ursula Burns started her career as an intern at Xerox and moved through the ranks to become CEO of the company 29 years later. Burns was the first black woman to run an S&P500 company. During her reign at Xerox, revenue increased by 50 percent to a value of almost $23 billion.

However, the company soon split up into two separate entities and appointed an individual CEO for each. Burns left her role as CEO in 2016. She applauds Xerox for giving her the empowerment to become a top executive at the company. Burns also says that schools in America should also do more to help women of color to work toward top positions.

Irene Rosenfeld And Krast Foods

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Photo by Paul Morigi via Getty Images for Fortune/Time Inc
Photo by Paul Morigi via Getty Images for Fortune/Time Inc

Irene Rosenfeld became CEO of Kraft Foods in 2006. During her time at the company, she successfully acquired the chocolate maker, Cadbury, for $20 billion. Right after this, the company was split into two entities, Kraft Foods and Mondelez. She decided to run the Mondelez side of the company.

Things didn’t go too well, however, as she was unable to grow the company’s sales over the next five years. She stated in an interview that the food and beverage landscape was the most volatile it has ever been. She was replaced by Dirk Van de Put who was the CEO of McCain Foods.

Richard Smith And Equifax

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Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Richard Smith was named CEO of Equifax in 2005 and prior to this, he worked at General Electric for 20 years. During Smith’s tenure, Equifax was hit with a data breach that left 143 million people’s information vulnerable. After the incident, Smith was under a lot of pressure to retire from the company and eventually left in 2017.

It was later revealed that this was not the first time Equifax had a security breach and their response to the situation was highly criticized by the public. People had to enter their social security number to know if their information was secure which was a violation of privacy rights.

Kwon Oh-hyun And Samsung

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Photo credit should read SEONGJOON CHO/AFP via Getty Images
Photo credit should read SEONGJOON CHO/AFP via Getty Images

Kwon Oh-hyun had worked with Samsung Electronics for 20 years before he was named CEO of the company in 2012. He brought about a lot of change at Samsung Electronics during his tenure and was even named on Times 100 Most Influential People list.

However, Kwon Oh-hyun was forced to resign from the company after the heir to the Samsung Group was sent to prison for five years on bribery charges. His departure was a surprise to many as the company had hit record profits. In a letter to the employees, he stated that it was time for a change and that the company needed a leader who could respond to the changing IT landscape more efficiently.