For Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Twitter's Jack Dorsey, a new page on the calendar will not erase the past year's challenges.

By Claire Zillman
December 28, 2015

A new year usually means a new start. But for some of the most embattled CEOs of 2015, a new page on the calendar will not erase the past year’s challenges. Whether these CEOs are fighting off an activist investor or trying to turn around a flailing brand, it would make sense if every one of them resolves to find a little breathing room in the New Year.


1. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer speaks during the Fortune Global Forum - Day2 at the Fairmont Hotel on November 3, 2015 in San Francisco.
Photograph by Kimberly White — Getty Images

For the new mother of twin girls—who gave birth one day after scrapping Yahoo’s plans to spin off its Alibaba stake—2016 isn’t looking like it will be much easier than 2015. In early December, Mayer called off Yahoo’s plans to transfer its Alibaba shares to a separate company because of tax concerns. It was an about face that mirrored the reversal by activist investor Starboard Value, which urged Yahoo to cancel the Alibaba spinoff after initially demanding the tech company sell its holdings. Mayer now will be under the microscope as Yahoo executes its new plan: to keep its Alibaba stake but spin off all its other assets.


2. Chipotle co-CEOs Monty Moran and Steve Ells

CO-CEO's of Chipotle, Monty Moran, left, and Steven Ells.
Photographs by Getty Images

A few years ago, it seemed as if nothing could stop Chipotle Mexican Grill, as the burrito purveyor expanded rapidly and revolutionized the fast food business. But in late 2015, it finally hit a roadblock: E. Coli. The chain temporarily closed dozens of restaurants after patrons fell ill. Another location in Boston was tied to an outbreak of the norovirus. The concerns over food safety have tarnished Chipotle’s reputation as an eatery for the quality-conscious. The scandal also forced the company to issue an investor warning and elicited an apology from co-CEO Steve Ells. It will be up to the chain’s two leaders to rebuild their relationship with customers in 2016 and fulfill Ells’ promise to make Chipotle “the safest place to eat.”


3. Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren

Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren
Courtesy of Macy's

As American consumers have steered their spending away from apparel and toward items like cars, electronics, and home repairs, the nation’s largest department store, whose inventory is heavy on clothing, has struggled to adapt.

That’s not its only challenge. Tourism to the U.S. is down, which has hampered sales at the department store—which gets 5% of its sales from international tourists—especially its highest-grossing locations in Manhattan, Miami, and San Francisco.

After rejecting activist investors’ suggestion to spin off its stores into a real estate investment trust, CEO Terry Lundgren will be under pressure to excel at some of his other turnaround proposals—a planned store in the United Arab Emirates and the launch of a T.J. Maxx-like chain called Backstage.


4. Gap Inc. CEO Arthur Peck

Arthur "Art" Peck, chief executive officer of Gap Inc.
Photograph by Michael Nagle—Bloomberg via Getty Images

In September, one of the few bright spots at The Gap Inc. dimmed when Ralph Lauren tapped Stefan Larsson to be its next CEO. Larsson remade Old Navy into Gap Inc’s most successful brand.

It’s hard to overstate what Larsson meant to Gap. At the time of his departure, Old Navy had posted comparable sales growth in 12 of the prior 14 quarters. A decidedly different story played out at the company’s other brands, Gap and Banana Republic. In the most recent quarter, same store sales increased by 4% at Old Navy but decreased 4% at Gap stores and 12% at Banana Republic.

CEO Arthur Peck must now revive sales at Gap and Banana Republic while making sure Old Navy doesn’t lose the market share it gained under Larsson.


5. Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey has struggled to turn Twitter's share price round since his return in October.
CNBC NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Compared to the rest of the CEOs on this list, it’s safe to say that Jack Dorsey’s seat is twice as hot.

In 2015, Dorsey became CEO of two public companies—mobile payment company Square and social media network Twitter. Holding down two CEO posts would be a Herculean task no matter the companies, but it’s been deemed nearly impossible since both Square and Twitter, while valued at billions of dollars, have product portfolios that need hands-on leadership to grow. Twitter’s user growth has disappointed investors, who are frustrated that the company has been so slow to introduce new features. And Square went public in November as it began a push for business-focused services to complement its payments software and credit-card readers.

Next year will determine if Dorsey can do what no one thinks he can.


6. Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos founder and CEO
Photograph by Stuart Isett—Fortune Global Forum

No one in the business world experienced as steep a fall from grace in 2015 as Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes.

Before this autumn, she’d been touted as a wunderkind, who at 19 founded a company—valued at as much as $9 billion—that has sought to transform the medical diagnostics industry by running tests on just a few drops of blood and at a low cost.

But a Wall Street Journal article in October punched holes in Holmes’ success story, raising questions about the precision of its system and whether the company was actually using its much-lauded products and technology. Holmes has stood by her company and denied the Journal’s accusations, but that hasn’t stopped the scrutiny.


7. Avon CEO Sheri McCoy

Sherilyn McCoy, chief executive officer of Avon
Photograph by Nichael Nagle — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ever since Sheri McCoy took over Avon in 2012, she’s struggled to revive the cosmetics company, whose sales have plummeted more than 25% since 2011. But in mid-December, McCoy got the deal she’d long sought—the sale of Avon’s money-losing business in North America to Cerberus Capital Management.

Activist investor Barington Capital Group blasted the deal; they said Avon had sold the unit at a fire-sale price and called for a new leader.

Whether McCoy stays put or Barington finally gets its way could depend on the outcome of the sale—if McCoy can truly use it as an opportunity to save what remains of the beauty brand.

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