FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2016 file photo, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner speaks during a product announcement at his company's headquarters in San Francisco. Weiner will become executive chairman after 11 years as CEO of the Microsoft-owned business. Ryan Roslansky, senior vice president of product, will become CEO as of June 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

CEOs did not leave their jobs in anticipation of COVID-19

AAP FactCheck March 24, 2020

The Statement

There is a conspiracy theory doing the social media circuit that a group of CEOs left their positions ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A March 15 Facebook post claims that “right before corona virus came” 11 CEOs of large US corporations “and soooooo many more” stepped down from their positions “almost like they all knew it was coming”.

The post continues with a claim that stock markets subsequently made “their biggest crash in recorded history, worse than great depression or the early 2000s hit”.

It then claims the COVID-19 outbreak is “a planned epidemic that needed a face to it for the masses to follow it blindly”. The post ends with a claim that the CEOs stepped down because they “had warning before any of us. The elite always have the upper hand.”

A Facebook post
 A screenshot of a Facebook post claiming CEOs have left their roles because of COVID-19. 

The Analysis

The current COVID-19 pandemic has its origins in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where in December, 2019 the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first detected.

COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the recently discovered coronavirus. This virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan.

The 11 corporations named in the post have either made CEO changes or announced changes that are yet to happen, however important details about the circumstances of each have been omitted from the post.

The long-term CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger, did step down on February 25, 2020, however Mr Iger has not left the company completely, instead taking the role of executive chairman until the end of the year.

Match Group, the corporation that owns Tinder, OK Cupid and other online dating sites, announced on January 28 that CEO Mandy Ginsberg would be leaving the company. A company-wide email, obtained by news website Axios, from Ms Ginsberg explaining her move, said she was resigning for health and personal reasons.

Hulu’s CEO Randy Freer’s departure was announced by the streaming company’s parent, The Walt Disney Company, on January 31. The move was widely expected following Disney’s takeover of Hulu and subsequent integration into its wider operations.

Medmen, a company selling cannabis products in the US legalised market, announced on January 31 that is co-founder and CEO Adam Bierman was stepping down. The departure followed a downturn in the company’s performance and share price. Mr Bierman remains on the company’s board of directors.

Les Wexner, the long-term CEO of Victoria’s Secret owner L Brands, stepped down from his role on February 20 following the sale of 55 per cent of the company to a private equity firm. The 82-year-old Wexner took up the role of “emeritus chairman”.

Salesforce announced on February 25 that its co-CEO Keith Block would step down, however his former co-CEO Marc Benioff remains as CEO and also chairman of the customer relationship management systems group. Mr Benioff’s remaining as CEO renders false any claim that the company’s leader has exited ahead of some looming catastrophe.

Motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson dropped CEO Matt Levatich, announcing the change on February 28. That change followed the company losing sales and share market value during his five-year tenure. 

Computer and software giant IBM’s veteran CEO Viriginia Rometty announced her retirement on January 30 after 40 years with the company, with the 62-year-old staying on in the role of executive chairman until the end of 2020.

T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere has not yet stepped down. The German telco announced on November 18 – before the 2019 novel coronavirus was first reported in China – that Mr Legere would depart his role on May 1, 2020.

LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner has also not yet stepped down from his role and he is not leaving the company. The workplace and careers networking company announced on February 5 that Mr Weiner would step down as CEO effective from June 1, when his role will be filled by Ryan Roslansky. Mr Weiner will take on a new role of executive chairman at LinkedIn.

And finally the CEO of credit card giant Mastercard has not stepped down. Mastercard announced on February 25 that Ajay Banga would step up to become executive chairman on January 1, 2021, after 10 well-regarded years in the chief executive role.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner
 LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner will become executive chairman after 11 years as CEO. 

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found there is no support for the claim that there is a connection between the CEO departures mentioned and the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the chief executives are not leaving the company but instead taking up executive chairman roles. In some cases the reason for the CEO’s departure is poor health or poor performance and in some cases the departure has been announced but is not taking effect for some time. In one case – T-Mobile – the departure was announced before the coronavirus outbreak had been reported in China. 

False – The primary claims of the content are false.

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