Four common traits of 29 new CEOs at the largest US companies

The 2015 class is an all-boys club.
The 2015 class is an all-boys club.
Image: Reuters/Larry Downing
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Twenty-nine new CEOs were appointed to run companies at the 250 biggest US companies by revenue last year, taking the helm of giants like Boeing, Proctor & Gamble, McDonald’s and DuPont.

Feigen Advisors, a New York consulting firm run by Marc Feigen, broke down their backgrounds. On average, these CEOs are 54 years old, they run companies with a collective market cap of $1.3 trillion and unlike last year’s group, which included Mary Barra at GM and Barbara Rentler at Ross Stores, the 2015 class is an all-boys club.

The 29 overwhelmingly have backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math:

All but two of the CEOs— Steven Demetriou of Jacobs Engineering and Sean Connolly of ConAgra Foods— were hired from within the organization or were board members. Most had a decade or more of experience within the company, and four of the CEOs have been at the companies since they were hired out of college: Michael McGarry at PPG Industries; Dan Houston at Principal Financial; and David Taylor at Procter & Gamble, while Dennis Muilenberg was first an intern at Boeing in 1985.

That so many new CEOs were internal candidates speaks to the emphasis companies place on succession planning and an orderly transition. A few of the CEOs—Dion Wesler at HP and Bhavesh Patel at LyondellBasell—were hired from outside the company, but held senior roles within the company before assuming the top job. Most took over after their predecessor retired. The average delay between their announcement and appointment as CEO was two months.

The grooming is apparent in the roles the new CEOs had before their appointment. Many were running large units within the companies, or had responsibility for operations. Only three were CFOs.

Feigen Advisors’ report highlights the premium companies place on stability, and the reluctance of boards to hand the reins to an outsider. While business leaders claim they want fresh perspectives and new ideas, it appears they value continuity above all else. Interestingly, Wall Street may want a more ambitious approach to succession: Ten of the 29 companies were downgraded by analysts after their new CEO was announced, while only nine were upgraded.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Marc Feigen’s first name.