In 2012, companies have continued to search for the right fearless leaders to guide them through the still-turbulent recovery. Here are some of the biggest management shakeups for the year.
Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis
The BlackBerry-maker has been long accused of being slow to realize the severity of its problems. It finally decided that the strategy under its co-CEOs wasn’t working. So this January, it replaced Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie with then-COO Thorsten Heins. After taking the job, Heins announced that RIM RIMM needed to seriously alter its marketing strategy in the United States. Before the fall of RIM, the working world loved the BlackBerry. But as more companies encourage people to bring their own smart devices to work, staffers have kicked the “Crackberry” habit in lieu of more addictive iPhone and Android phones.
Apple’s stellar consumer satisfaction track record took a hit this year. With the rollout of its iOS 6 mobile operating system, the company unleashed Apple Maps, which turned out to be a rather glitchy navigation app. People were ticked at the app’s shortcomings, but it was a surprise when Scott Forstall, the man in charge of iOS software, resigned from the company. Forstall had been a star employee for the past 10 years and was said to be close to the late Steve Jobs. He had been considered a viable CEO candidate at Apple AAPL .
Besides Forstall, retail store chief John Browett stepped down after only nine months in the job. During his term, Browett slashed the number of personnel in stores, which tarnished the company’s customer service cred. Apple CEO Tim Cook was forced to apologize to customers for both Apple Maps and the sparsely staffed stores.
Perhaps one of the most surprising shakeups of late was Vikram Pandit, the Citigroup C CEO who, just after reporting a rather strong third quarter for the bank, stepped down. He had been a controversial leader, one that former FDIC head Sheila Bair was quick to criticize following the CEO’s fall. Shareholders also had begun to grumble over Pandit’s $15 million pay package for 2011. In Pandit’s place, Citigroup named Michael Corbat as its new CEO. Corbat has been with Citi for almost three decades and most recently led the bank’s operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
This summer, Yahoo YHOO hired Marissa Mayer as CEO, replacing interim CEO Ross Levinsohn and former chief exec Scott Thompson, who was unceremoniously ousted in May. Thompson’s exit was particularly ugly. He had locked horns with powerful activist investor Daniel Loeb in a big way by refusing Loeb’s demand for a seat on the company’s board. Later, Loeb dug up inaccuracies on Thompson’s resume — namely, a degree in computer science that the executive did not have. Yahoo’s troubles competing with search giant Google still loom large, but management and employees at the company are probably glad to see Mayer’s fresh face.
This summer, Chesapeake Energy CHK shareholders wanted to remove Aubrey McClendon of his responsibilities as chairman after it came to light in the spring that that he had mixed up corporate and personal funds. McClendon had taken out over $1 billion in personal loans using his own stakes in his company’s wells as collateral. Following the debacle, shareholders, including powerful activist investor Carl Icahn, agitated for a board shakeup, which they got — switching out four of Chesapeake’s board members along with removing McClendon as chair.
But the shakeup didn’t go too far — McClendon has remained CEO of the company. “We enjoyed a very good relationship when I acquired almost 6% of the Company’s stock in late 2010,” Icahn said in a Chesapeake press release, “and I look forward to a similarly constructive relationship now.”
Ever since J.C. Penney ” hired former Apple star Ron Johnson about a year ago, the store has been struggling to match pace with his whiz-bang vision of cleaning up its retail spaces and sales policies to deliver a high quality customer experience. The latest casualty of the effort has been former President Michael Francis, who was a high-profile hire from Target and held his job at J.C. Penney for only nine months. The shakeup is troublesome, Deutsche Bank’s retail analyst Charles Grom told CNN. “We’re afraid the environment [at Penney’s headquarters] has become ‘Ron’s way or the highway,’ which is never a good culture for a company trying to find itself.”
Microsoft just lost a potential successor to CEO Steve Ballmer. On November 12, about a month after the debut of its new Windows 8 operating system, Steven Sinofsky left the company. Sinofsky was the head of Microsoft’s Windows division, and at his post, he led the effort to make the new operating system work with PCs phones and tablets. Sinofsky’s successor, Julie Larson-Green, will have to carry the torch.
“It is impossible to count the blessings I have received over my years at Microsoft,” Sinofsky said in a Microsoft MSFT press release that portrayed the transition as amicable. Though Sinofsky was considered a skilled and driven leader, he wasn’t known for working particularly well with others. That’s a rough trait for a leader, especially in the increasingly collaborative tech industry.