In a historic wave of exits over the last year, McDonald’s, Disney, IBM, Salesforce, UberEats and other companies have lost their CEOs.
The 1,600 CEO departures that happened in 2019 and the 219 CEO departures in January 2020 are all-time records for any single year or month, respectively. Observers have struggled to find a lesson in the mass turnover, but considering the departures individually, they have plenty of insights to offer, particularly in the area of crisis communications.
A CEO transition is not necessarily a corporate crisis—although changes at the top can certainly be spurred by crises, or when not managed properly, create their own. However, the CEO’s departure cries out for an explanation to shareholders, even if one is not legally mandated.
But the Securities and Exchange Commission gives public companies wide latitude in choosing what to tell their investors when a CEO departs, only requiring that companies file an 8-K form when they terminate or accept the resignation of CEO. The agency demands only that companies “disclose the fact that the event has occurred and the date of the event.”