Chief Executive Officers, or CEOs, are the face of a company. They're supposed to be the rock-solid leader that ensures a company's growth strategy remains on track, and they're the unifying force that keeps employees motivated to strive for perfection.
But once in a while, the performance of a corporate CEO can be called into question. When they become more of a distraction than an asset to the company, it could be time to consider kicking them to the curb and letting a new face take over. We asked five of our Foolish contributors to offer their sage suggestions on which CEOs they believe should be shown the door based on recent performance. Here's what they had to say.
No four-leaf clover here
Sean Williams: Suggesting a CEO should be removed is something we don't take lightly at The Motley Fool, but one leader I'd like to see step aside is Clovis Oncology's (NASDAQ:CLVS) CEO Patrick Mahaffy.
Mahaffy has been running Clovis for a long time. Unfortunately, two of its most promising compounds have completely blown up under his watch. In November 2012, CO-101, a then-promising pancreatic cancer drug in midstage trials, completely missed the efficacy mark, with Mahaffy noting at the time that he and his company were "completely perplexed" at the finding.
However, far more damage was done last year when Mahaffy and his staff had to backpedal on previously released results of rociletinib, a non-small cell lung cancer drug that targeted the EGFR 790M mutation. It was initially reported in the TIGER-X study that rociletinib generated a 60% response rate and a 90% disease control rate, which even for a relatively small percentage of lung cancer patients with the EGFR 790M mutation would have been incredible.
There's just one issue, though: Clovis had been including immature responses that hadn't been confirmed in its results. When the Food and Drug Administration asked for additional data, it tuned out that the 500mg and 625mg doses of rociletinib led to only 28% and 34% overall response rates. How this mistake made it to the FDA's desk is almost incomprehensible.
Making matters worse, it's possible Mahaffy and his team could have been sitting on this data for weeks before disclosing it, meaning the company has faced the threat of lawsuits in the wake of this news. With rociletinib's efficacy significantly reduced, and a competing drug known as Tagrisso from AstraZeneca demonstrating much better efficacy, Clovis' valuation was decimated.
Wall Street and investors' trust in Mahaffy has been shaken, which is why I believe it's time for him to step aside and let someone else guide Clovis Oncology.
Could Sears bounce back with a new CEO?
Dan Caplinger: It's been a tough period for retail companies lately, but Sears Holdings (NASDAQOTH:SHLDQ) has struggled for years, and CEO Eddie Lampert has thus far proven unable to resurrect the ailing retail giant's future prospects from what seems to be an inevitable death spiral. The stock has lost more than half of its value since early 2015, and although spinoffs of certain portions of Sears' legacy business have provided some offset to the downward movement in Sears' share price, Lampert seems resigned to taking the remaining business apart and selling it for scrap.
In its quarterly earnings report in May, Sears said it will look at various alternatives for making the most of its remaining key brands, including the iconic Kenmore appliance business, DieHard batteries, and Craftsman hand and power tools. It's possible Sears will license those brands, allowing the stock to benefit from any revenue Sears is able to get from agreements with other retailers. However, if Lampert follows his typical spinoff plan, then what's left within Sears could be just a shell with little value.
At this point, it might be too late for Sears to rebound, even if it did replace Lampert. Nevertheless, investors who want the retailer to have a chance operationally need to view the current CEO as an enemy, and prefer Lampert leave in favor of someone who would try harder to bring back Sears as a viable business.
Just another automotive scandal
Daniel Miller: I might be cheating a little bit on this selection, but it's been a long time coming. About a month and a half ago, beleaguered Takata Corporation (NASDAQOTH:TKTDY) CEO Shigehisa Takada said he plans to step down at some point in time when the company is in more stable condition. The decision came thanks to incredible pressure from nearly all angles as the company has dealt with its airbag recall scandal for over two years.
Takata's faulty airbags were used in vehicles produced by 14 different automakers in what National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) called "the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history." The airbags have been linked to 14 deaths and more than 100 injuries spanning more than 60 million vehicles in the U.S. alone.
"Nobody wants to see anybody from the Takada family in charge at this point," said Koji Endo, an auto industry analyst at Advanced Research Japan, according to The New York Times. "The Takada family, practically speaking, is being kicked out."
In the most recent quarter, Takata posted a 33% decline in net income, and it booked a 3.5 billion yen charge in the period due to the airbag lawsuits. The kicker is that Takata can't fully estimate the total cost of the recalls, which could reach as high as $12.7 billion, or 1.28 trillion yen, according to a report by Takaki Nakanishi, an analyst for Jefferies Group.
While it's unclear how Takata and automakers will split the bill for the massive sum, it's long been discussed that Takata knew of these defects before it went to regulators, and an ongoing audit has found that the parts supplier routinely manipulated results of airbag tests reported to carmakers. It's been a long time coming, and Takada has already announced his intentions to eventually resign, but Takata's CEO should definitely be kicked to the curb.
Farming for a new CEO
Neha Chamaria: Declining farm income and crop prices have stalled growth at most agricultural companies in recent years, but CNH Industrial (NYSE:CNHI) disappoints in more ways than one. CNH Industrial was formed in 2013, after CNH Global combined with Fiat Industrial. Richard Tobin, who earlier led CNH Global, took the helm as the CEO of the merged company. Soon after, in 2014, management laid out ambitious five-year financial targets, including:
- Revenues from industrial activities (all of CNH's businesses excluding its financial arm): $35 billion by 2016 and $38 billion by 2018.
- Operating margin from industrial activities: 8% by 2016 and 9% by 2018.
- Net income: $1.8 billion by 2016 and $2.2 billion by 2018.
Today, CNH is alarmingly short of its goals: It expects to end 2016 with an operating margin of 5.2%-5.8% on revenues worth only about $23.5 billion at mid-point from industrial activities. Worse yet, CNH earned only $248 million in net income last year. In fact, management has not only fallen short of its targets, it has also failed to create shareholder value over the years. CNH is among the worst performers in the industry today in terms of margins, and it had an abysmally low return on assets and return on equity of 0.51% and 5.2%, respectively, in 2015.
For a company that gets almost 60% of its sales from construction equipment, commercial vehicles, and powertrain, the downturn in agricultural markets is no excuse for such a dismal performance. Finding a new CEO with a fresh vision, perhaps, is the answer.
Williams CEO is leaving the company drifting in the wind
Tyler Crowe: After Energy Transfer Equity rescinded its offer to complete the acquisition of Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB), it may have been ok to give Williams CEO Alan Armstrong a pass because it wasn't necessarily his fault that the deal was scuttled. However, now that rumors are surfacing that Williams has rejected a buyout offer from Enterprise Products Partners, it's looking more and more like it's time for Armstrong to go.
For more than a year, Williams and its subsidiary Williams Partners (NYSE:WPZ) have been hanging in limbo following several corporate moves that haven't panned out. The first was in May of last year, when the company announced it was buying the outstanding shares in Williams Partners. When Energy Transfer stepped in with an offer instead, Williams initially rebuffed the deal, saying it was undervaluing shares until it eventually agreed to a $33 billion offer. As the energy market crashed, Energy Transfer found a way to wiggle out of the deal that had become a wild overvaluation of Williams. After all of this corporate drama, Williams is no closer to its original goal of generating more long-term value for shareholders, and a couple of activist investors are now asking for Armstrong to step down after bungling the Energy Transfer deal.
With this recently rebuffed deal from Enterprise -- the price of the deal wasn't disclosed, but it was wildly cheered by Wall Street -- it is hard to determine what exactly the company is trying to accomplish. With this lack of direction at the top, investors should demand that Armstrong step down and the company bring in someone who has a plan for the future.