Fewer CEOs Headed for the Exit in October

The number of chief executive officers leaving their posts in October fell to its lowest level in 18 months, according to a new report released today. The drop seems to show that the volatile job market, at least among corporate chiefs, appears to be stabilizing.

Last month, 81 CEOs parted ways with their employers, down 27% from the 111 departures recorded in September, according to the report compiled by global employment-services firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The rate was the lowest tracked since April 2009, when 78 CEOs exited their jobs.

For the year so far, the pace of CEO departures is about on par with 2009, Challenger said. In the first 10 months of the year, 1,048 CEO departures have been announced, up slightly from the 1,028 announced during the same period last year.

A Trend?

Government and nonprofit organizations had the highest number of turnovers in October, with nine CEOs departing. So far in 2010, government and nonprofits combined have announced 141 CEO departures, ranking second only to the health-care industry, which has reported 173 this year, including eight in October.

It's too soon to determine whether last month's decline signals a lasting trend, said Challenger CEO John Challenger. "We may have reached a point in the recovery where companies are seeking more stability in the 'C-suite,'" Challenger said, adding that the drop could simply be a momentary lull.

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Last month's most notable departure may have been that of Randy Michaels (pictured) at Tribune Co. Michaels resigned after The New York Times ran a front-page story comparing the once-venerable media company's culture to that of a frat house. In the days after Michaels resigned, Tribune pushed out nine more executives as part of an organizational overhaul. Tribune publishes the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers and operates 23 TV stations.

In its report, Challenger noted that criticism of CEO compensation has grown increasingly vocal during the last year. Corporate boards for the most part have defended the generous pay packages even as CEOs have less room for error. Chief executives who come under increased scrutiny may find their days quickly numbered, Challenger said, should the board's position on pay become indefensible.