Chief executives and the itch to quit

Thu May 16, 2013 7:23am EDT
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By Andrew Callus

LONDON (Reuters) - On approaching his 60th birthday this year, long-serving Tullow Oil boss Aidan Heavey told staff he felt "like two 30 year-olds".

A handful of recent shock departures by 50-something chief executives at European blue chip companies - none of them under any obvious pressure to quit - suggest some of his peers either lack that vigor, or want to channel it elsewhere.

Peter Voser is giving up one of the world's most challenging CEO roles at Royal Dutch/Shell next year, before his 55th birthday, in pursuit of a "lifestyle change".

Swiss engineering group ABB's 55-year old boss Joe Hogan is also going, for "private reasons". Pierre-Olivier Beckers, 53, is walking out on Belgian retailer Delhaize, and Paul Walsh, 57, is waving goodbye to drinks multinational Diageo.

All four are about average European CEO age.

Luxury goods group Richemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert, older, at 62, than the rest of the May retirees, gave up the CEO post in April and on Thursday announced he would take a year off from the chairmanship, too, to catch up on some reading. And perhaps a trip to the Antarctic.

While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicized, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted up in recent years, and not just because of the tough economic times.

"The reality is it's grueling. It's really tough, and there comes a point where you don't want to do it any more," said Ian Butcher, who headhunts board-level and senior executives for MWM Consulting.   Continued...

Chief Executive Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Peter Voser speaks during the World Gas Conference 2012 in Kuala Lumpur June 5, 2012. Picture taken June 5, 2012. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad