Who wants to be a CEO right now?

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Who wants to be a CEO right now?
CNN chief executive Chris Licht is one of several CEOs who have left their post in recent months.Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
  • Let's be real: Being a CEO sucks right now.
  • Corporate America's leaders are under more scrutiny than ever, as expectations on performance rise.
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America's corporate life may have been built off the back of titans like Jack Welch, the unstoppable engine at the top of General Electric during its miracle years. But 2023 has brought a level of scrutiny that makes being a CEO today a nightmare for even the toughest leader.

CNN's former chief Chris Licht stepped down on Wednesday after less than a year, following intense criticism from inside and outside his newsroom. Observers said he was too aloof, too self-absorbed, and too out of touch at a time when the company needed desperate change. A brutal teardown of Licht published last week in The Atlantic was the beginning of the end.

He isn't the only CEO out of a job.

Meme stock company GameStop fired its CEO Matthew Furlong on the same day as Licht, also after a short tenure. Net sales had been in freefall for four straight quarters. NBCUniversal's chief Jeff Shell was ousted for having an inappropriate relationship with a female colleague. British American Tobacco's CEO Jack Bowles stepped down last month after the company was hit with a $635 million penalty for breaching US sanctions.

Patience is wearing thin among investors for lackluster performance and, in a post-#MeToo world, there's little sympathy for bad or ill-judged behavior.

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At the low point of a boom-and-bust cycle where high interest rates and high expectations reign supreme, being a CEO sucks.

And they don't know how to react. PwC's 2023 survey of 4,410 CEOs found that 40% felt their organization would "no longer be economically viable in 10 years' time," with few spending enough time to reinvent themselves.

While the executive pay packet might soothe some of these woes, it puts leaders at odds with their employees.

The median pay for the top 100 highest-paid US CEOs jumped 7.7% last year to a high of $22.3 million, per research published in May by data firm Equilar. This puts compensation growth at a much higher rate than the average employee, who is struggling with a high cost of living.

And the relationship is only set to worsen.

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The rise of ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence tech is forcing even the most staid companies to consider the pros and cons of replacing or supercharging workers with AI. Law firms, booksellers, pharmaceutical companies, and employment agencies have all mentioned OpenAI's buzzy chatbot in earnings calls this year. As Insider's Matt Turner wrote, AI is going to whack the average white-collar worker.

CEOs are also reneging on remote-work policies by asking workers to get back to the office, much to employees' dismay.

In an email to staff on Wednesday, Google said that office attendance would start to be considered in performance reviews. Raul Vargas, who became CEO of insurance giant Farmers Group in January, faces an employee exodus after mandating three days in the office a week.

With more turmoil on the horizon, it's pretty clear: Licht won't be the last CEO to go.

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