In a year when stock prices were plummeting, profits evaporating, and millions of workers worldwide joined the ranks of the unemployed, one might assume that the chief executives of the world’s largest companies lost their jobs in dramatic numbers. But that was not the case. CEOs demonstrated remarkable recession resistance in 2008. Although CEO turnover rose slightly on a global basis, from 13.8 percent in 2007 to 14.4 percent in 2008, our study revealed that turnover actually declined in North America and Europe, the regions hit first and hardest by the economic downturn. The reasons for CEO departures in 2008 remained remarkably consistent with past years.
The main message is that in uncertain times, boards of directors tend to stick with the CEO they know. Companies in a recession want a battle-tested captain at the helm — and in cases where they opted for a new chief executive, many installed or retained a seasoned veteran as chairman of the board to provide oversight.