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FTSE 100 CEO appointments on the rise, but concerns are raised over how quickly female leaders leave their positions

Source : Management Today - Éilis Cronin

There’s an alarming trend among female CEOs which could indicate a lack of support from boards.

The jobs market for CEOs in the largest companies is at its strongest for a number of years, but it’s not good news for all senior job hunters – women are leaving their posts at an alarming rate when compared to men.

According to management consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates’ quarterly Global CEO Turnover Index shows, FTSE 100 businesses saw a total of 14 CEO moves in Q1 – six departures and eight appointments, the highest single-quarter movement.

The data gives an indication of the pressure new CEOs face during their first two years in the role. Globally, the first quarter of 2024 has seen 15% of CEOs leave their role after less than two years, an increase from 10% in 2019. Boards are more willing to remove underperforming CEOs more quickly, says the index, amidst a tough macroeconomic climate.

For example, Peter Harrison announced he is stepping down as CEO from asset manager Schroders after eight years, kicking off a search for a successor. Harrison was one of the longest serving CEOs in the financial services on the FTSE 100. Potential replacements include internal candidates such as chief financial officer Richard Oldfield, global chief investment officer Johanna Kyrklund, and Meagen Burnett, group chief operating officer.

Ty Wiggins, head of RRA's CEO and Executive Transition practice, says: “One of the first challenges a new CEO must tackle is appointing the right senior leadership team. Boards and CEOs consistently underestimate the time and effort required to get this right.

“Even the most efficient new CEOs this quarter will find themselves still trying to put together a high-performing senior leadership team well into 2025, a factor that will have an enormous impact on their ability to deliver. A tight senior talent market will only put further strain on this timeline, leaving businesses that haven’t developed a strong bench of internal talent in a tough spot. This reality will force boards to reframe their expectation of an incoming CEOs ability to perform in the short term.”

But there’s an alarming trend among female CEOs which could indicate a lack of support from boards. Almost a quarter of women CEOs left their role within the first 24 months, compared with 10% of men.

In the past month M&S has said goodbye to joint CEO Kate Bickerstaffe in March after just two years in the role. Stuart Machin will take over the role while Bickerstaffe focuses on a portfolio career and a new venture as a non-executive director of Kingfisher.

“A failed CEO appointment can be devastating to a business,” says Wiggins. “The loss of direction and momentum it creates can set back businesses years and cause permanent cultural and reputational damage.

“The reality that a quarter of women CEOs find themselves out of the role within two years is deeply concerning, especially given how few women CEOs there are worldwide. Boards cannot ignore their accountability for a new CEO’s success, and many are clearly not doing enough to set women candidates up to succeed. Boards must do better to ensure that the CEO roles offered to women are not a poisoned chalice.”


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