If you’re a CEO, this summer may have had you sweating in your corner office. In fact, in August U.S-based companies announced 159 CEO changes, a 28-percent increase over July and the most ever in a month. Through August, over 1,000 U.S. CEOs had stepped down, more than the same point in 2008 when we were deep in the throes of the financial crisis.
This past week spared prolific CEOs no exception; in a 24-hour period between Tuesday and Wednesday of this week the CEOs of WeWork, eBay and Juul all stepped down/were forced out amidst varying crises. Let’s look at each of these high-profile cases and a PR tip for each.
WeWork: Adam Neumann
Long in the making, this one was no surprise yet stole headlines. Already in public turmoil since August when its IPO paperwork revealed concerns around WeWork’s path to profitability and leadership, a bombshell story of fantastic reporting in the Wall Street Journal last week revealed a portrait of a tech CEO we’re all too familiar with in Silicon Valley: smoking on WeWork’s private jet, tequila shots following a round of layoffs, bizarre aspirations to be “president of the world.” Queue even more backlash. It proved to all be too much for the board of The We Company, and Neumann was forced to step down while the company takes a hard look at its future.
- For WeWork: Despite the above, good job not putting any employees or getting Neumann himself on the record with press. But your company isn’t just margins and revenue; take a good look at your CEO and his/her ability to steer a company that will soon have shareholders to report to.
- For Neumann: It’s ok to be a bit eccentric, but when you’re running a multi-billion dollar business with hundreds of employees stability is critical. You didn’t have to be a stereotype!
Juul: Kevin Burns
The vaping industry itself has come under intense scrutiny following an inexplicable spate of deaths linked to vaping and urgent concerns around how e-cigarette companies target children. As the ensuing pressure from federal and state governments has intensified, so has the spotlight on one of the market leaders in the space. In forcing ex-CEO Kevin Burns out, Juul is hoping a management shakeup will help show officials that it’s taking things seriously. But for a company whose entire business is based on getting e-cigarettes into people’s lungs, it’s hard to imagine how Juul survives should sweeping restrictions or bans hit this industry.
PR Tip: Juul did the right thing in shaking up its leadership but it may want to also consider pivoting to another industry…
eBay: Devin Wenig
The oldest company on this list, eBay has been slowly losing market share to Amazon. But it appears Wenig was the victim of activist investors of the public company who have been pushing eBay to sell of parts of its business and boost its sales and stock price. Wenig had some ideas, the board had others and in these cases the board always wins (it’s ironic that Wenig landed the role in 2015 after activist shareholder activity led to the ousting of the former eBay CEO John Donahoe).
PR Tip: eBay may have done well to also announce a replacement or at least a timeline for what’s next, but this one was handled well, perhaps no surprising for a large, established and mature company.
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