New year, new chief executive.
A total of 131 CEOs in the United States, mostly at public companies, departed their posts in January, the highest monthly total since February 2010 and 15.9 percent higher than the same period last year, according to findings from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm.
Boards are more inclined to shuffle management when business is good. Companies may be riding high after the stock market surged in 2013 and the country's economy grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter.
"In good times, you have time to make a shift, things are going OK," said Gary Neilson, a senior partner at Booz Allen, which does a separate study on executive turnover. "But when things are moving fast, you need someone at the helm who's holding on tight."
January's numbers may have also reflected an unusually high number of retirements.
The average tenure for exiting executives was nearly 15 years, the highest on record since Challenger began tracking data more than a decade ago.
In total, 43 executives said they were stepping down because of retirement. Thirty-two chief executives resigned from their position, while 22 transitioned into other roles at the company.
Challenger assembled the report by surveying announcements of executive changes. Some of the prominent announcements last month of CEOs who were stepping down include Tim O'Shaughnessy, formerly of Living Social, and Casey Sheahan of Patagonia.
Firms also often tend to change leadership at the beginning of the year, so month-to-month data can be volatile. Still, January's numbers may hint that 2014 could outpace 2013 for executive turnover.
"Certainly it suggests that there may be a canary in the coal mine sort of thing," said John A. Challenger, Challenger's chief executive.
A total of 1,246 chief executives departed U.S. firms in 2013, according to Challenger. That's the highest number since 2008, when 1,484 executives left.