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There will be record CEO turnover this year, says top PwC boss

A keyboard showing a button labeled "I QUIT."
Expect to see a record rate of CEO turnover in 2024, said PwC's senior partner, Tim Ryan, told BI.Getty/Constantine Johnny
  • Expect to see a record rate of CEO turnover this year, PwC's Tim Ryan said at Davos.

  • CEOs will grapple with things like tech development and geopolitical tensions, he said.

  • The number of CEO exits reached a new high in 2023.

Don't be surprised if there's an exodus of CEOs in the year ahead.

"We will see more turnover in the C-Suite in the next 12 months than we have ever," Tim Ryan, PwC senior partner, told Business Insider at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week.

Ryan compared the role of a CEO right now to playing a multi-dimensional game of chess, given that corporate executives need to answer to key stakeholders while balancing a host of new changes and challenges.

"It's a massively complex job," he said. "You have investors who want something in the short term, the board is thinking about the short term and the long term, you've got workers you are worried about leaving behind, rising regulation, technology is moving at a rapid pace, climate is increasing at every level. You've got to reinvent yourself."

One major challenge CEOs are bound to contend with this year is AI's impact on the workforce. Ryan's advice to CEOs is to foster a collaborative environment where everyone is encouraged to innovate using AI together and solve problems. Employees more specialized in AI — such as engineers and programmers — should work together with workers like accountants, retail bankers, or insurance claims processors to "reimagine" the best way to get things done.

And CEOs will also need to deal with how the rapid development of technology will affect the geopolitical landscape — which isn't always under their control.

Ryan said there are four key questions that anyone who is at the helm of the company should address right now:

  • Do they actually want to do the job?

  • Do they have five years to do it? (Ryan estimates that reinventing a company to face new challenges on the horizon will take about five years.)

  • Does the company's board want them to do it?

  • Do they have the track record to convince investors to let them do it?

CEO turnover is already high. A record 1,710 CEOs joined the "Great Resignation" in 2023, marking a 51% jump from 2022, according to a report by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. There were some high-profile CEO exits in the last year, including CNN's Chris Licht, GameStop's Matthew Furlong, and NBC Universal's Jeff Shell.

And while the average pay of top CEOs has skyrocketed over the past few decades, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute, those cushy compensation packages also come with a healthy dose of stress.

A fall 2023 survey of 630 US CEOs indicated that the top three geopolitical concerns that keep them up at night are the national debt, a potential cyberattack, and war in the Middle East.

Former Panera CEO Ron Shaich described just how stressful leading a company through a tough period can be in a podcast interview in October. "It was huge pressure, and things weren't going right," he said of a period in 2015. "That's the pressure. That pressure that I wanted to deliver for the good people that actually cared to believe in me in a world where nothing was actually certain," he said.

And as companies are increasingly under pressure to tighten their belts and evolve in the era of AI, it doesn't sound like that pressure will be letting up for today's CEOs anytime soon.

Correction: Thursday, January 18, 2024 — This article has been updated to reflect Tim Ryan's current title, which is senior partner at PwC. He no longer serves as chairman.

Read the original article on Business Insider