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Updated: November 6, 2019

Bad time to be a CEO: 170 top executives left last month

McDonald's. Juul. WeWork. Under Armour. Nike. Those companies, and plenty more, saw their chief executives walk out the door just in the past few months, part of a record-breaking trend.

The number of CEOs who left their jobs in October alone was 172, a new high, according to a report from career tracking firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. That is up 14% compared to September and 15% more than the 149 CEO departures in October 2018.

In total, 1,332 CEOs have left their position this year so far — the highest year-to-date total since the company began tracking the trend in 2002. Challenger monitors these changes at public and private companies, as well as government agencies and non-profits that have been in business for at least two years and have more than 10 employees.

"October was marked by a number of high-profile CEO exits, with many being held accountable for various missteps, whether in their professional handling of the company or in their personal lives," said Andrew Challenger, VP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. in a statement.

[Related article: Pay-ratio disclosures put executive compensation, income inequality in spotlight]

The trend in October continued into November when McDonald's ousted CEO Steve Easterbook after he admitted to having a consensual relationship with an employee. Challenger noted that 10 CEOs left their positions because of allegations of professional misconduct this year.

But most changes at the top aren't as abrupt as they appear, Challenger said.

"After a decade of expansion, companies that started 10 years ago are finding themselves in a phase where new leadership is needed," he said. "Other companies are adapting to changing technologies or finding new leadership based on current economic conditions and forecasts for the coming year."

The report said most the CEO departures through October of this year — 281 — were from companies in the government and non-profit sector. The changes were prompted by "new legislation or political changes that influence leadership," the report said.

The telecommunications and electronics sector was the second highest, with 188 departures, and financial companies had the third-highest number of CEO changes at 104.

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