5 Short-Lived CEO Stints

by Alyssa Oursler | September 4, 2013 6:00 am

ceoIn late July, Vivus (VVUS[1]) appointed former AstraZeneca (AZN[2]) executive Anthony Zook as its new CEO, settling Vivus’ proxy battle with First Manhattan Co. and Sarissa Capital Management.

But that didn’t last very long. Today, news broke that Zook has resigned because of recurring health issues.

Zook’s decision to leave after only a few weeks was his own — he noted that the choice was difficult, but that he “cannot devote the necessary time and focus to the company, but instead must concentrate on personal health issues.” Still, that ranks among the shortest of CEO tenures, many of whom left for reasons other than health.

And usually, that reason is that they’re doing a crappy job.

Here’s a look at five CEOs who were hired (and fired) in the relative blink of an eye. Take a look:

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Ron Johnson

J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP)Company: JCPenney
Tenure: 17 months

Ahh, Ron Johnson: the man who made the JCPenney (JCP[4]) soap opera possible.

In case you forget, Johnson’s short story goes a little something like this: Mike Ullman was in charge of JCPenney, but activist investor Bill Ackman didn’t like that. So the board tapped Ron Johnson — a former star at Target (TGT[5]) and then Apple (AAPL[6]) — to take over.

And it was a disaster.

More specifically, it was “one of the most aggressively unsuccessful tenures in retail history.” To skip to the not-so-happy ending, Johnson got the boot in under a year and a half, and Ackman eventually sold his stake after losing a giant stack of green.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Johnson left with “little to show for his 17 months running the ailing retailer,” besides now being a punchline. Johnson agreed to be paid predominantly in stock and gave up the rights to exit pay if he was fired.

And by the way … Ullman is back in the CEO chair.

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Leo Apotheker

HPQCompany: Hewlett-Packard
Tenure: 10 months

When it comes to short-lived leaders, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ[7]) handily takes the prize. Current CEO Meg Whitman is the company’s sixth leader since 2005.

So the fate of once-CEO Leo Apotheker wasn’t anything unique — just shorter than usual. Other goners included Carly Fiorina and Mark Hurd, but each served at least five years at the top, with interim leaders sprinkled in between.

Meanwhile, Leo Apotheker was hired for the full-time gig in November 2010, then given the boot in September 2011.

Under Apotheker’s misguided hand, Hewlett-Packard stock dropped around 40%, causing HPQ to lose more than $30 billion in market capitalization. Yet Apotheker took home a severance payment worth $7.2 million, shares worth $3.56 million and a performance bonus worth $2.4 million.

Not bad for less than a year’s work.

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George Mikan

Best Buy LogoCompany: Best Buy
Tenure: Five months

This one is less notable for the time at the helm, considering Mikan was only hired as an interim CEO. What’s notable about his stint is just how much money Mikan made in all of five months in office.

In April 2012, Brian Dunn resigned as chief executive of big-box electronics store Best Buy (BBY[8]) following a personal conduct investigation. Mikan was named to replace him, then was replaced by Hubert Joly in September 2012 — not even half a year later.

BBY shares shed more than 30% under his reign, and more than 40% from its late February peak. Yet Mikan received pay of $3.32 million, broken out as $1.35 million in salary, then $1.97 million in stock awards.

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Scott Thompson

Yahoo AlibabaCompany: Yahoo
Tenure: Four months

It’s a battle between Ron Johnson and Scott Thompson over which quickly ousted CEO is the more infamous.

Yahoo (YHOO[9]) hired Thompson in January 2012, and things began to unravel just a few months later. Dan Loeb, activist investor and CEO of Third Point, sent a letter to the board questioning his resume — and that questioning turned out to be justified.

Thompson falsely listed a computer science degree not just on his resume, but on his online bios — including the one in Yahoo’s SEC filing. By mid-May, he had gotten the boot.

The lying hurt Thompson’s wallet, too, as he was fired without a severance package. Luckily, he kept his $1.5 million bonus along with $5.5 million in restricted stock — and that stock has soared around 80% since he left, under the guidance of current CEO Marissa Mayer.

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Alan Fishman

WaMuCompany: Washington Mutual
Tenure: 17 days

We have to go a bit further back for this final CEO, but it’s too short of a CEO stint to pass up.

The year was 2008. Things weren’t going well at Washington Mutual — or anywhere else, really — and CEO Kerry Killinger got the boot as a result. The man pulled in to replace him: Alan Fishman.

He was described by colleagues as a “blunt-speaking banking veteran” with “the self-confidence, brainpower and decisiveness needed to separate the wheat from the chaff at WaMu,” according to The Seattle Times. But he never got the chance to prove it. Fishman was top of the food chain for a mere 17 days before federal regulators seized the savings and loan giant, then sold it to JPMorgan Chase (JPM[10]).

Still, he did alright for himself despite the unfortunate turn of events. Although Fishman turned down his multimillion-dollar severance payment, he still got a $7.5 million signing bonus for a job that lasted just over two weeks.

As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. VVUS: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=VVUS
  2. AZN: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=AZN
  3. Compare Brokers: https://investorplace.com/options-trading/broker-center/
  4. JCP: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=JCP
  5. TGT: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=TGT
  6. AAPL: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=AAPL
  7. HPQ: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=HPQ
  8. BBY: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=BBY
  9. YHOO: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=YHOO
  10. JPM: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=JPM

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