7 Ways to Get Your CEO Fired

It's hard to train good CEOs. It's much easier to set them up for failure. Follow these seven steps and your chief executive officer is bound to be out of a job sooner or later.

By Rob Enderle
Fri, April 12, 2013

CIO — Last week, I covered the seven habits of highly successful CEOs. With this week's firing of J.C. Penney CEO Rob Johnson—the man credited with creating the massively successful Apple stores—I figured it's time to talk about what gets CEOs fired.

Over the last decade the folks at Hewlett-Packard seemingly got this down to a science, so I'll be referencing HP's recent history a great deal. But we can also pull material from recent examples, ranging from Yahoo to the situation at JCP, which is how Johnson unsuccessfully rebranded J.C. Penney.

The CEO Job: It's Yours, You Can Have It

Let's start with what makes a CEO different than any other employee in a large company. Unlike every other employee, CEOs doesn't have a manager. Rather, they have three power groups to keep happy: Investors, who are represented by the board; customers, who control revenue, and employees, who control production. Even politicians may not have to deal with such a diverse group that can materially impact their success.

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These days, CEOs command salaries that can be several times that of the next employee down the line. They're generally protected by contracts and have their salaries set by the board's compensation committee, which isn't measured by this decision and can use this number to raise its own executive salaries.

CEOs can delegate most work to others. Hours spent on the job can range from massive commitments by some to several hours a month for others. There is little formal CEO training, and the skills needed to do this job successfully are different than anything else a CEO has ever done. While some are mentored into the job, this practice is more of the exception than the rule, which really stacks the deck against the new CEO.

It doesn't help that CEOs are often surrounded by god-like expectations, where folks expect them to wave their hands and accomplish amazing things, but they are human, bound by physical and organizational limitations that would make even a god unable to do much of what stakeholders expect. It's not unusual to see CEOs go through several marriages, have issues with children and experience unhappiness in retirement as a result of losing the power and status that come with the job. Bill Gates is one of the few CEOs to escape what's often a horrible end to a successful stint as a CEO.

I know a lot of CEOs. There are very few whom I envy—and none I'd ever want to replace. Sometimes the firms they work for make their jobs impossible. Sometimes, though, they are their own worst enemy. Here are the seven things that most often get a CEO fired.

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