In total, 96 chief-executive changes were announced by U.S.-based companies in January, according to the Challenger report, which tracks monthly changes in top management at U.S. companies. The number is down 9% from December, but 8% higher than January 2010, when 89 CEO departures were noted.
Chief executives at Google (GOOG), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and privately held dating website eHarmony were among those at leading tech companies giving up their corner offices last month. AMD was one of eight electronics companies to announce a CEO change, Challenger noted.
The Silicon Valley-based chipmaker ousted Dirk Meyer on Jan. 10. Meyer, who had held the CEO position for two-and-a-half years, led the company through a difficult period that saw rival Intel (INTC) gain even more dominance in the microprocessor market.
Though AMD's stock appreciated in value during Meyer's tenure, Challenger says, the company's board felt Meyer didn't have the right stuff to lead the chipmaker through its next phase: pushing AMD processors into the fast-growing tablet and mobile-device market.
Finding the Right CEO for Expansion
"We could see more changes like this as the economy continues to pull out of recession," said Challenger CEO John Challenger in a statement accompanying the report. Such quick switches run counter to evidence that shows stability at the top is key to an organization's long-term success.
Still, Challenger says, "many companies feel that certain CEOs are better suited for holding the ship steady through rough waters, while others are better for expansion."
Google was among seven computer companies that will see their CEOs exit in 2011. Eric Schmidt, who has led the search giant for the last decade, will hand over the reins to co-founder Larry Page in April.
Apple's Steve Jobs Doesn't Make the List
Google's announcement came shortly after Steve Jobs, Apple (AAPL) co-founder and chief executive, said he was taking a medical leave of absence, his second in three years. Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook is handling day-to-day operations in Jobs' absence.
Other notable CEO changes in January included Harry Buckley's retirement from accounting-firm Jackson Hewitt (JTX); the resignation of Julian Day at RadioShack (RSH); and the start of John Miller's tenure at restaurant-chain Denny's (DENN), where he succeeds interim CEO Debra Smithart-Oglesby.
Of January's 96 total departures, 31 of them resulted from resignations, and 25 CEOs stepped down but remain on the board of directors or with the company in some other capacity, Challenger noted.
Government and nonprofit organizations, considered a single sector for the report's purposes, led all industries in CEO turnover in January with 12 changes. The financial and health care sectors each saw nine CEOs leave their posts.