Study: More CEOs Eyeing the Exits

December 3, 2003 ( - The level of soul-searching professional angst is apparently pretty high these days, according to a new survey.

In fact, Burson-Marsteller’s new CEO reputation study found that large numbers of CEOs and top executives have soured on staying in the top spot. According to the survey, a hefty 73% of CEOs have thought of quitting. This is a 35% increase over pre-Enron CEO responses (54%) in 2000. Burson-Marsteller is a PR and communications consultant.

“Reluctance to accept the top slot comes at a time when corporate America is in need of more than a few good CEOs,” said   Patrick Ford, chair of Burson-Marsteller’s Corporate/Financial Practice, in a statement. “Like it or not, successfully restoring trust in corporate America lies in the willingness of upcoming qualified CEOs to take risks, roll up their sleeves and restore the reputation of the office.”

CEOs are not the only ones to have second thoughts about pursuing the corner office. When asked if they’d like to be CEO today, more than one-third (35%) of the senior executives surveyed would reply “No thanks.”  Although considerably lower than 12 months ago (54%) when corporate scandals rocked the worldwide business community, the reluctance to assume the chief executive office is still higher than it was two years ago (27%) when Enron had yet to become a household name, the survey said.

At least part of the reason for the executive blues is that CEOs are under severe pressure to meet stakeholder demands with increasingly compressed time schedules.   In Burson-Marsteller’s   research, business influencers report that new CEOs have little time to prove themselves – approximately nine months to earn employees’ trust and to develop a strategic vision and 14 months to execute on first-100-days promises.

Also, according to the survey:

  • CEOs are operating in a “prove it” environment. The new research found that successful CEOs are expected to spend 60% of their time on execution and 40% on strategic vision.
  • CEOs are being “kept awake at night” worrying about the competition (86%), growth (81%) and increasing shareholder value (80%).   These demands require CEOs to have a more complex set of skills compared to two years ago.

The 2003 research was conducted among business influencers — CEOs, senior executives, financial analysts/institutional investors, business media and government officials. For more information, go to