CEO turnover lower in first quarter

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Turnover among the nation’s CEOs saw a resurgence in March, as 14 CEO departures were announced – an increase of 39 percent, after falling to a five-year low in February.

Despite the surge, March departments were 7.3 percent lower than the same month a year ago, when 123 CEOs left their post, according to a survey by Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

Overall, 309 CEO changes were announced in the first quarter, down 6.7 percent from the same period a year ago, the lowest number of exits since the fourth quarter of 2005.

“Apparently, volatility in the economy does not necessary lead to volatility in the C-suite,” said John Challenger, “While 309 changes are not insignificant, it is well below last year’s record pace, despite the fact that the 2009 economy is off to a much rockier start than in 2008.”

Resignations account for the largest number of CEO exits, and president the most common reason for departure this year.

Only seven CEOs have been fired or removed from their positions by the board.

One sector is seeing increased turnover as business conditions worsen: technology. So far this year, 61 chief executives have been replaced from computer, telecommunications, and electronics and e-commerce firms. Meanwhile CEO turnover in the financial industry declined 32.7 percent in the first quarter.

While the automotive sector struggles, Wagoner is the only one asked to leave by President Barack Obama.

“This is one of the risks of asking for and accepting government assistance,” Challenger said. “These CEOs not only must answer to their directors, shareholders and analysts, they are not being held accountable by the president, Congress and taxpayers. It is an entirely new level of scrutiny from just a decade ago.”