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Companies can’t imagine life without the CEO. That’s a problem

<i>Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images</i><br/>High-profile executive exits this year have led to the so-called
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett
Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
High-profile executive exits this year have led to the so-called "great CEO reshuffle of 2022." Starbucks reinstated Howard Schultz earlier this year.

By Nicole Goodkind, CNN Business

Nothing lasts forever, not even a good CEO.

It’s been a nasty year for Fortune 500 companies and top executives are paying for it: CEOs are exiting in droves. But as the global economy sits on the brink of a possible recession, a new troubling pattern is emerging: In many cases, there’s no succession plan.

What’s happening: High-profile executive exits this year at Disney, Starbucks, Salesforce, Vodafone, Slack, AMC, Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, FedEx and more have led to the so-called “great CEO reshuffle of 2022.”

The exits come after steep losses in the share prices of Fortune 500 companies. The S&P 500 has lost nearly 18% year-to-date.

Consultancy firm Challenger, Gray, & Christmas reported earlier this year that there were 774 CEO exits in the first six months of 2022, the highest first half total since the firm began monthly tracking in 2002 and up 20% over the same period in the previous year.

CEO exits eased in the third-quarter, but the C-suite door seems to be revolving again as a slew of Fortune 500 CEOs have said their goodbyes this month.

Why it matters: The cult of personality around CEOs has grown significantly in recent years, said Chris Bingham, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Their visions have become inextricably tied to the trajectory of the company.

Succession planning is very difficult for CEOs who consider themselves irreplaceable and so it just doesn’t happen, at least to the extent that it should. “Companies end up scrambling to find someone and it’s just too late,” said Bingham.

That leaves investors surprised by the change, and the fear of the unknown can overshadow solid sales and revenue growth. Just look at Salesforce — the resignation of co-CEO Bret Taylor last week sent shares down, overshadowing a 14% sales increase in the third quarter earnings report.

Looking back: One way to avoid the succession problem is to recycle an old CEO. Disney recently brought back long-time CEO Bob Iger and Starbucks reinstated Howard Schultz earlier this year.

It makes sense to fight strong economic headwinds with proven leaders. Iger led Disney as CEO for 15 years — he’s got a lot of institutional knowledge behind him. But the reinstatement also indicates that boardroom executives think the best way forward is backward, said Bingham. That signals a troubling lack of innovation.

Bingham researched these boomerang CEOs and found that returning leaders often hold organizations back. On average, the annual stock performance of companies led by boomerang CEOs was 10.1% lower those with a first-stint leader, he found.

Looking forward: More than half of public company board members in a recent survey say they need to improve their CEO succession planning.

Shareholders are beginning to take account of that: According to a recent analysis, the amount of market value wiped out by badly managed CEO and C-suite transitions in the S&P 1,500 (an index that covers about 90% of total US market cap) is close to $1 trillion a year.

Meme stock mania may finally be over

Companies that attracted rabid followings from traders on Reddit and other social media sites in 2021 are struggling and it may finally be time to declare an end to meme stock mania, reports my colleague Paul R. La Monica.

Look at GameStop: Shares of the video game retailer have plunged nearly 35% this year after surging by more than 685% last year. The company, which reports after the bell on Wednesday is expected to report a quarterly loss of $84 million and sales growth of just 4.5% from a year ago.

Shares of movie theater chain AMC have also plummeted 55% this year. And AMC’s new class of stock issued earlier this year with the ticker symbol “APE” — a nod to loyal fans on social media who refer to themselves as “apes,” — has plunged more than 90% from its peak.

Another Reddit favorite, Bed Bath & Beyond, is down 75% this year.

So what happened? The pandemic-era stimulus money and unemployment that led to the proliferation of meme-trading are drying up.

The unemployment rate is just 3.7%, down from a peak of 14.7% in April 2020 when the pandemic first hit the US economy. Americans are no longer facing Covid lockdowns, and many people have returned to the office.

But, perhaps most importantly, Paul writes: investors may also be realizing that companies like GameStop, AMC and Bed Bath & Beyond face legitimate challenges. Earnings, sales and other fundamentals matter after all, especially in an economy that is starting to show signs of weakness.

The very last 747 jumbo jet just rolled off Boeing’s assembly line

After 53 years and more than 1,570 planes, the last Boeing 747 rolled off the assembly line in Washington state Tuesday, reports my colleague Chris Isidore.

The jumbo jet, with its distinctive second-floor bulge, is perhaps the most notable and popular plane Boeing has ever built. But airlines have moved away from planes with four fuel-guzzling engines like the 747 and its days as a passenger plane are now almost completely behind it.

The end of an era: Today there are only 44 passenger versions of the 747 still in service, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. More than half of those — 25 — are flown by Lufthansa.

That total is down from more than 130 in service as passenger jets at the end of 2019, just before the pandemic crippled demand for air travel, especially on international routes on which the 747 and other widebody jets were primarily used. Most of those passenger versions of the jets were grounded during the early months of the pandemic and never returned to service.

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