Photograph by Bill Varie—Getty Images
By Ryan Derousseau
October 21, 2014

Not many people are built for the long hours, high stress, target-on-your-back reality that comes with running a large company. You’re constantly subject to the demands of the board of directors, upset customers, and annoyed employees, all while attempting to steer a company to profitability.

Of course, it doesn’t always go swimmingly.

This year, we’ve seen a rash of infighting and outrageous behavior that has led to a number of CEOs to quit or be shown the door. Luxottica Group, the largest eyewear maker in the world, shuffled out their second CEO in less than two months last week, following a struggle over how much control should be given to the founder of the company, according to reports.

American Apparel (APP) finally cut ties with its brash founder Dov Charney in June in the wake of one among many claims of misconduct. Online advertising platform RadiumOne fired its CEO following a domestic abuse scandal. Stadium food vendor Centerplate’s CEO stepped down after video showed him kicking a dog in an elevator. Finally, “Bond King” Bill Gross left Pimco, the company he founded, to join competitor Janus in the midst of reports that he was to be fired the next day.

Then again, CEO departures aren’t all tabloid-fodder. Many leaders step down gracefully, without treating the organization like a forgotten bachelor pad. Look at J.C. Penney (JCP), which recently named Marvin Ellison as CEO-in-waiting until Mike Ullman retires in August 2015. Or even Oracle (ORCL), whose founder Larry Ellison decided to step aside and officially yield chief executive duties to Safra Catz and Mark Hurd.

In a time when work-life balance seems ever-more enticing while CEO pay knows no bounds, it’s refreshing to find examples of leaders stepping down without poor results, scandal, or even legal issues following in their wake.

Here are five CEOs who knew how to lead, even if it meant realizing that the company would be a better place without them.


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