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More CEOs Are Deciding the Stress, Pressure, and Loneliness Are Just Not Worth the Money HSBC's Noel Quinn unexpectedly announced Tuesday that he'd step down as the bank's boss once its board picked his successor.

By Theron Mohamed

Key Takeaways

  • Noel Quinn is leaving HSBC. CEOs are quitting in droves as the top job loses its appeal for some.
  • There were a record 622 CEO changes at US companies last quarter, up 48% from a year earlier.
  • Elon Musk has said his Tesla job is "really not that fun" and he often feels "quite lonely."
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Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto/Getty Images via Business Insider
Noel Quinn is stepping down as CEO of the bank HSBC.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

It's a tough time to be a CEO, if the crowd of people quitting the top job is any indication.

HSBC's Noel Quinn unexpectedly announced Tuesday that he'd step down as the bank's boss once its board picked his successor. Paramount Global's Bob Bakish resigned from the media titan on Monday, while Dr. Martens' Kenny Wilson recently said this would be his final year in charge of the footwear company.

Their departures are part of a broader trend. There were a record 622 CEO changes at U.S. companies last quarter, a 48% rise from the same period last year and a 27% increase from last quarter. That's according to the staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which has been tracking those moves since 2002.

"C-Level leaders have had an incredibly challenging few years, and are transitioning out of their roles, whether for new opportunities or to get fresh starts elsewhere," Andrew Challenger, the company's senior vice president, said in the latest report.

"Rapid technological advancements, in addition to an election year, may make it a palatable time to make changes at the top," Challenger added.

In recent years, corporate chiefs have contended with everything from labor shortages and strikes to layoffs and culture wars, conflicts, the remote-working boom, snarled supply chains, pandemic shutdowns, historic inflation, surging interest rates, and a deeply uncertain economic outlook.

Perhaps it's no wonder that the median tenure for S&P 500 bosses fell from six years in 2013 to below five years in 2022, one analysis of CEO longevity found.

Pressure, stress, and loneliness

Head honchos have been calling out the difficulties of their jobs for years.

"Being a CEO sucks," Emad Mostaque, the former boss of Stability AI, said in March.

"After an intense five years, it is now the right time for me to get a better balance between my personal and business life," HSBC's Quinn said Tuesday in a press release, underscoring how top dogs struggle to juggle their jobs with their other responsibilities.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has bemoaned that running a company is "really not that fun" and "just awful" at times. CEOs are burdened with the "crappiest problems in the company" that nobody else can solve, he said.

Musk also lamented in 2022 that he sometimes felt "quite lonely" if he was living alone while working on a project and didn't even have his dog for companionship.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Grzegorz Wajda/SOPA/Getty Images via BI

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has had a similar experience. "The depths of loneliness I experienced as a CEO are difficult to put into words," he posted on X in January.

The combination of immense pressure, stress, loneliness, and lack of work-life balance that often comes with being a CEO may well explain why few people last long in the role. The raft of recent challenges likely fueled last quarter's exodus from the top job.

But there are exceptions to every trend: Warren Buffett has been the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway for more than half a century.

The 93-year-old has probably lasted so long because he employs an army of CEOs to manage the scores of businesses he's acquired over the years.

"We delegate almost to the point of abdication," he wrote in his "Owner's Manual" for Berkshire shareholders. Handing off daily responsibilities lets Buffett focus on what he loves to do: allocate capital within and outside his company.

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