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From scandals to retirement, these CEOs made waves in 2020

While 2019 was the year of the “CEO exodus,” this year has been “counterintuitive,” according to one expert.
Image: CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman, Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger, and Away co-founder and CEO Steph Korey.
CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman, Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger, and Away co-founder and CEO Steph Korey.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Some CEOs cashed out in 2020 while stocks were red hot, others were nudged out due to racial justices issues and scandal — and some simply decided it was time to retire.

While these kinds of movements happen every year, 2020 was especially unusual due to the coronavirus pandemic. In total, 1,218 chief executives left their roles, down 17.7 percent from last year, according to a report from workplace consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“It’s counterintuitive in some ways. You’d think when the economy is booming like it was in 2019, more companies would keep leaders and, during a crisis like this year, there might be more movement,” Andy Challenger, head of sales and media at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told NBC News. “That’s what we’ve tended to see in the past, but this year is different.”

During the early days of the pandemic in April, there were just 48 departures, half as many as last year and the lowest recorded since 2004, according to the report. Still, there were a number of high-profile moves that grabbed headlines.

Bob Iger, The Walt Disney Company CEO and Chairman

Bob Iger, who is one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, made the surprise announcement in February that he would step down immediately from his CEO position. Bob Chapek, who ran Disney’s parks division, took over as his successor. Iger pledged to stay on as executive chairman until December 2021 and will continue to direct content creation at the company. During a call with investors announcing his decision, Iger said it would allow him the opportunity to focus on more creative endeavors at Disney, something he wasn’t able to do as CEO. While the sudden announcement led to speculation Iger might be in the running to join a presidential ticket, he assured investors his decision was "not accelerated by any particular reason."

Ford CEO and President Jim Hackett

Jim Hackett passed the baton to his protégé Jim Farley in October after a $11 billion restructuring plan failed to convince investors the automaker was on the right track. Hackett, who took over as CEO in May 2017, was not yet expected to retire, but shares were down 40 percent during his tenure. His successor certainly has his work cut out for him. Farley has the distinction of being the fourth person to lead the automaker since the Great Recession a decade ago, which nearly bankrupted Ford.

TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer

Four months after taking the job, Kevin Mayer resigned from the company amid a dispute between TikTok’s Chinese parent company and President Donald Trump, who sought to ban the popular app over security concerns. In September, a deal was announced that would give Oracle oversight of U.S. operations and make TikTok a global company based in the United States. However, the deal would still require approval of regulators in both countries.

Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat

After 37 years at Citigroup, including eight years as chief executive, Corbat announced in September that he’s retiring. During a year when there has been an increased push for racial and gender diversity in the boardroom, Corbat’s departure paved the way for a history-making new CEO. When Jane Fraser takes over in February, she will become the first woman to ever lead a U.S. bank.

CrossFit Founder and CEO Greg Glassman

Greg Glassman founded and ran CrossFit, a fitness franchise with a group of diehard devotees around the world who religiously go to their local gyms (when they’re open) for competitive workouts. However, Glassman was pushed out of the tight-knit community after he made incendiary comments about the death of George Floyd.

"I, CrossFit HQ, and the CrossFit community will not stand for racism. I made a mistake by the words I chose,” he said in a statement. Glassman stepped down in June after the company’s flagship event, CrossFit Games, began losing sponsors in response to his comments.

Away CEO and co-founder Steph Korey

Steph Korey, who co-founded and led luggage brand Away, stepped down from the CEO position in July, marking the second time she stepped down after a scathing report about the company’s toxic culture. Korey initially stepped down in December. The next month, it was announced she would serve as co-CEO alongside retail veteran Stuart Haselden.

After Korey's most recent departure, Haselden and co-founder Jen Rubio included a note about some of Korey’s social media behavior bashing the media. Her posts concerned employees, some of whom felt she cared more about her own reputation than that of the company, The Verge reported.

“Steph’s personal social media activity does not reflect the current priorities of the company,” they wrote. “We stand with you, our employees.”