Endangered Executives 2013: Whose Jobs Will Survive the Year?

CEO Death Watch 2013: Who Will Survive the Year?
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Endangered Executives 2013: Whose Jobs Will Survive the Year?

This was a good year for fans of executive shenanigans. Best Buy CEO Brian J. Dunn and incoming Lockheed Martin CEO Christopher Kubasik both got the boot for having inappropriate relationships with subordinates, while Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson was canned for padding his resume. Meanwhile, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit was forced out the door in October, shocking the financial world.

But a lot of CEOs of struggling companies managed to avoid the axe, and will head into 2013 with their jobs intact -- for now. We decided to take stock of a few of these endangered executives to assess which ones will survive 2013 at their present posts.

Outlook: At-risk

To say that Johnson's tenure is off to a rocky start would be a gross understatement. J.C. Penney (JCP) hired the former Apple retail chief in November 2011 to revitalize the struggling brand, and he responded with a series of bold moves in his first year -- doing away with coupons and promotions, bringing in more upscale brands and experimenting with such innovations as mobile checkout and "store-within-a-store" outposts for brands like Levi's.

But the attempts to turn JCP into the Apple of retail have sputtered, sending customers fleeing and the stock price tumbling. Johnson still has his defenders, who insist there will be growing pains as he implements his long-term strategy to convert the retailer's fleet of stores to his new vision. And sales are up in the stores that have been converted, suggesting that Johnson is onto something.

But it's a strategy that will take several years and a whole lot of cash, and it's unclear how much of either Johnson has to play with.

Outlook: On thin ice

Ballmer has survived numerous calls for his ouster since taking over for Bill Gates in 2000, as he's overseen high-profile failures to get into the mobile and music games. This year Microsoft (MSFT) finally made a strong, if late, pitch to join the mobile and tablet revolution when it introduced Windows 8, a bold and stylish departure from previous operating systems which can run on PCs and tablets alike.

The operating system and Microsoft's first homegrown tablet, the Surface, have received generally positive reviews. But traffic in Microsoft's new retail stores has been weak, and PC sales are down from last year. And the early returns suggest that the Surface isn't exactly flying off the shelves.

More than one observer has noted that Ballmer is more or less betting the company's future on Windows 8. If it fails, Ballmer could be out the door by 2013's end.

Outlook: Safe, for now

The French executive took over as chief executive of Best Buy (BBY) in August 2012 after predecessor Brian J. Dunn was ousted amid a sex scandal back in April. And he's inherited a mess: Same-store sales have fallen for eight straight quarters, and the electronics giant has been hit so hard by "showrooming" that it agreed to price-match Amazon and other online competitors during the holiday season.

None of this is Joly's fault, of course, and he'll be given time to right the ship. His opening gambit is a five-point plan dubbed "Renew Blue" that includes a renewed focus on the customer experience. But the plan didn't knock anyone's socks off, and it's not clear how narrowing the options for customer support revitalizes the customer experience.

Unless he commits a gaffe on the scale of his predecessor, Joly will probably survive the year. But Best Buy is a fixer-upper, so the new boss better start fixing if he wants to keep his job.

Outlook: On thin ice

Last week the Groupon (GRPN) founder and CEO tweeted out this picture from the company's headquarters, asking "Pretty sure it's a joke?" While the tweet referred to the "Gorpon" sign on the conference room window, we were more struck by the words prominently displayed on the monitor in the background: "COUPON d'ETAT." If things don't turn around for the couponing site, that's exactly what Mason could be facing from shareholders.

Groupon came under fire over accounting issues in late 2011 when the company was preparing for its IPO, and it's faced mounting competition from the likes of Amazon and Google, and a plummeting share price. One commentator at CNBC dubbed Mason the worst CEO of 2012, writing, "The only surprise ... is that Mason is still on the job."

We'll see if that's still the case at the end of the year.

Outlook: Off the hot seat

A little over a year ago, Hastings' position as CEO of Netflix (NFLX) looked to be in serious peril. A change to the pricing structure in summer 2011 that effectively doubled the subscription cost for many users caused a decline in subcribers, and that was followed shortly thereafter by a boneheaded (and short-lived) attempt to spin off the DVDs-by-mail portion of the business into a new company called "Qwikster." Netflix also lost the streaming rights to Disney movies after failing to renew its agreement with Starz. The end seemed near for Hastings.

And then Netflix started to pull out of its nosedive. The company regained millions of subscribers in the first quarter of 2012, and recently bypassed Starz to regain the rights to Disney's theatrical releases. The stock has seen solid growth in the last three months.

That's not to say that the Hastings' troubles are behind him. Despite the recent rally, the company's share price has been a roller-coaster ride in 2012, and at one point the board had to adopt a "poison pill" to fend off a possible takeover bid by Carl Icahn. More recently, Hastings found himself the subject of an SEC investigation over improper disclosures, and Netflix users howled after an outage at the company's Amazon-hosted servers knocked out the service on Christmas Eve. And of course, the company faces increasing competition in the streaming game from Amazon Prime and Redbox Instant.

So Hastings isn't out of the woods. But it's been awhile since we've heard serious talk of his ouster, and the company seems to be headed back in the right direction.

Outlook: Unclear

No, John Boehner isn't a CEO. But as Speaker of the House, he can impact more investors and consumers than any one executive on this list, especially when it comes to budget negotiations. And his high-profile failure to bring his fellow Republicans into line on a "fiscal cliff" deal has many suggesting that his speakership could be in danger.

To be fair, he has an unenviable task: Striking a deal with Democrats that's also palatable to his party's conservative wing. His last, best shot at compromise, the so-called Plan B, was rejected by both groups before it had a chance to go to a vote, leaving Boehner and his party weakened.

That has a lot of observers questioning whether he can remain as speaker if he can't effectively lead his party. The Ohio Republican insists that his job isn't in danger, and insiders say that he faces few if any legitimate contenders. But in the wake of the fiscal cliff fiasco he finds his future a bit more hazy than before.

Got an opinion about whether these leaders will stay in their jobs in the new year, or want to suggest someone you'd add to the list? Let us know in the comments. And stay tuned throughout 2013 as we issue updates on the shifting fortunes of these beleaguered bosses.


Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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