In recent years, S&P 500 companies with new chief executive officers (CEOs) have become a regular occurrence. That’s because CEOs are moving on more quickly — both by choice and because of activist investors — and that means there are always interesting possibilities for stocks set to rally under new CEOs.
Equilar, a research company specializing in corporate leadership data, reported earlier this year that 62 of the Equilar 500 — America’s largest companies by revenue — announced CEO departures in 2022, up from 49 in 2021. The average tenure of CEOs leaving in 2022 was 7.7 years. Only 18 were in the top job for more than 10 years.
In searching for stocks ready to rally under new CEOs, I thought about including Unilever (NYSE:UL). The U.K.-based consumer goods company will see incoming CEO Hein Schumacher take over in July with the difficult assignment of reinvigorating the company’s stock. Shares have lost 6.5% over the past five years compared to a 92% gain for Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) over the same period.
However, because I want to focus on American-based companies, I’ve opted to pass on Unilever and go for S&P 500 companies instead. Below are three stocks ready to rally under new leadership.
Viatris (NASDAQ:VTRS) is the global healthcare company created by merging Pfizer’s (NYSE:PFE) Upjohn business and Mylan N.V. in November 2020. Pfizer shareholders got 0.124079 shares of Viatris for each share in the former parent. Viatris shares are down 37% since the merger.
On April 1, Scott Smith became the new CEO of Viatris, replacing Michael Goettler. Smith joined the company’s board in December 2022. He was a senior executive at Celgene for 10 years. The cancer and immunology drug company was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) in 2019. Among Smith’s accomplishments was developing and commercializing Otezla, a blockbuster drug to treat psoriasis.
Smith is taking over Viatris as it transitions into a high-growth, high-cash-flow business. In 2023, the company expects to generate as much as $9 billion in cash from divestitures. In 2024, it expects to generate at least $2.3 billion in free cash flow annually, with 50% allocated toward dividends and share repurchases.
Given Smith’s experience taking drugs from clinical trials through the commercialization stage, investors should expect a bright future. However, Wall Street has yet to buy into the company’s new strategic plan. Sometimes it takes a new CEO 12 months to get up to speed. In time, this appointment should reap dividends for Viatris shareholders.
VF Corporation (VFC)
VF Corporation (NYSE:VFC) went outside the apparel and footwear industry to appoint Bracken Darrell as its new CEO, who will take over on July 17. Darrell was the chief executive of Logitech International (NASDAQ:LOGI) for 10 years until stepping down earlier this month to pursue “other opportunities,” which turned out to be heading up the company that owns popular brands such as Vans, The North Face and Timberland.
LOGI stock increased by more than 650% during Darrell’s tenure. As recently as June 2021, it traded near $140 a share due to Covid-19 and the surge in demand driven by the pandemic.
Darrell takes over VF at a similar stage to when he took over as Logitech’s CEO. VF’s stock is down 75% over the past five years. And the board believes it’s made an inspired hire.
“VF’s Board of Directors couldn’t be more pleased with our appointment of Bracken as VF’s 12th CEO in the company’s 124-year history,” said Richard Carucci, who was recently named chair of the board. “We conducted an extensive search and determined that Bracken has all the attributes to excel in this role. He is a transformational and visionary business leader with a strong track record of performance across multiple industries.”
I, too, think it’s a smart move. It reminds me of the hire of Hubert Joly by Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) in August 2012. The hospitality executive didn’t have retail experience and several analysts pooh-poohed the move. Boy, were they wrong. Joly delivered one of the all-time retail turnaround stories.
I could see the same thing happening with VF’s iconic brands. If you’re an aggressive investor, you ought to buy VFC stock in a big way.
Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD)
Warner Bros. Discovery (NASDAQ:WBD) didn’t hire a new CEO. That job is held by an overpaid David Zaslav, who has earned close to half a billion dollars in the past five years. But the media conglomerate is looking for one at CNN after Zaslav fired Chris Licht in early June.
WBD stock traded 16% higher over two days to $14 a share on the news. However, once it became clear that Licht’s firing did little for the overall health of the company, shares fell back below $12, where they were before the announcement.
The reality is that Warner Bros. Discovery has a boatload in debt. As a result, it’s selling off anything that doesn’t generate enough cash flow. It continues to cut jobs to save cash. Removing “HBO” from HBO Max did little to slow the streaming platform’s content purge.
Zaslav always saw the Warner Media merger as a legacy ego project that he could justify under the guise that scale in media was vital to success. Now that he’s got what he wished for, he needs to find people who can make money for WBD — and fast.
Hiring a new CEO at CNN and then spinning it off would be one way to get investors excited about WBD stock. The company will have to do a lot more to move its shares into the $20s, but it’s possible.
On the date of publication, Will Ashworth did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.