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The biggest CEO resignations of 2015 so far

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It is often said that when a company reaches certain growth milestones, rather than business planning and market research, focus turns to who is sailing the ship. This often leads to companies taking on a different kind of captain.

However, a CEO’s departure can also be mired in scandal, whereby they then get fired or forced out by the board. As harsh as it may sound, this happens a lot.

Whatever the reason may be, 2015 has seen quite a few high-profile CEOs hand in their resignations – so we took a look at some of the biggest bosses to have left the helm in 2015 thus far.

(1) Martin Winterkorn – Volkswagen

The world’s second-largest carmaker is being engulfed by an emissions scandal, which has wiped nearly €26bn (£19.06bn) off its market value. Volswagen is said to have been caught cheating on US air pollution tests. The company installed software known as “defeat devices” in the electronic control module of diesel vehicles issued between 2008 and 2015.

Winterkorn has become the public face of the scandal, with allegations suggesting that he ignored warning signs about the emissions in 2014.

He recently resigned, claiming to be “shocked” by the situation. He said he had accepted the “responsibility for the irregularities that have been found in diesel engines and therefore requested the Supervisory Board to agree on terminating [his] function as CEO.

Winterkorn continued: “I am clearing the way for a fresh start with my resignation. The process of clarification and transparency must continue. This is the only way to win back trust.”

He added that he was not aware of any wrongdoing on his part, and was stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group.

(2) Ellen Pao – Reddit

On 6 July, more than 150,000 Reddit users signed an online petition calling for Ellen Pao, the site’s interim CEO, to step down. The petition arose after Victoria Taylor, the director of talent who managed the site’s popular Ask Me Anything (AMA) division, was fired. Around 300 discussion areas were also shut down by moderators as a form of protest.

Action must be taken to prevent Reddit from being further run into the ground,” the petition said. “Stop Pao from destroying the Reddit community by making her step down as CEO of Reddit.”

In answer to a request for comment, Pao apologised for the way the company had handled the transition plan – to no avail. She reportedly received death threats from users angry at her handling of the situation, and in a bid to take the sting out of any acrimony, both Reddit’s board member Sam Altman and Pao wrote pleas for compassion.

Pao urged those users who attacked her to remember that she was “just another human; I have a family, and I have feelings”.

When 200,000 users started calling for her dismissal, Pao resigned only eight months after she started working at Reddit. In a resignation statement, she wrote that she had seen “the good, the bad and the ugly on Reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity”.

At the time, Pao said she had left the company because she felt unable to meet the board’s growth ambitions.

Former Reddit employees suggest CEO Ellen Pao was set up to fail – or pushed over glass cliff

(3) Hisao Tanaka – Toshiba

Toshiba had been under fire for months over accounting irregularities until it all came spiralling down. In April, Toshiba itself began investigating accounting practices in its energy division.

There had been concerns that executives were setting unrealistic targets for new operations after worries that the 2011 Fukushima disaster may hit the company’s nuclear division.

A month later, an independent committee took over the review. While the report did not specifically refer to Fukushima, it did say that pressure within Toshiba was strong in the accounting years of 2011 and 2012. Furthermore, it found that the company’s three most recent CEOs had played active roles in inflating Toshiba’s operating profit.

“Within Toshiba, there was a corporate culture in which one could not go against the wishes of superiors,” the report said. “Therefore, when top management presented ‘challenges’, division presidents, line managers and employees below them continually carried out inappropriate accounting practices to meet targets in line with the wishes of their superiors.”

The company said in a statement that there had been inappropriate accounting going on for a long time, and “deeply” apologised for causing trouble for shareholders and other stakeholders. Because of this, Tanaka, alongside the company’s vice chairman, resigned.

Olympus-style accounting scandal sees CEO resign from Toshiba

Read on to find out about the CEO that simply wanted a career change.

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