Where They Are Now – Former CEOs

It is no secret that CEO’s do not have much job security, and do not often have extended careers.  This is especially true with large corporations. Here is a look at a few prominent leaders in the early 2000’s that had turbulent or short-lived careers.


Michael Eisner – DisneyMichael Eisner

Michael Eisner was named CEO of Disney in 1984 after leaving Paramount for the job at the request of Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney.  At Eisner’s arrival, Disney’s entertainment division was struggling and relied heavily on its theme park revenues.

Eisner turned Disney into a global media empire.  Eisner increased the company’s value from $1.8 billion at his arrival, to $80 billion by the end of his tenure.  Eisner was the top paid CEO in 1998, and released his first book, Work in Progress: Risking Failure, Surviving Success. 

Although Eisner brought Disney great financial success, he was criticized by many investors.  Fans believed Eisner was selling too hard, and subsequently taking away the Disney magic.  At a shareholders meeting around the time these complaints surfaced, Roy Disney stated that “Branding is something you do to cows. Branding is what you do when there’s nothing original about your product. But there is something original about our products. Or at least there used to be.”  In 2005, Michael Eisner resigned as CEO of Disney.

Eisner did not leave the entertainment business behind after his departure from Disney.  In 2005, Michael founded the Tornante Company, a privately held business that invests in, acquires, incubates, and operates media and entertainment companies.  Through Tornante, Michael also created Vuguru, an independent multi-platform studio.  The Tornante Company has recently found great success with the Netflix show BoJack Horseman.  Eisner has also published three additional books with his most recent work, released in 2010, titled Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed.


Sanford Weill – Citigroup

Sanford Weill has brought success wherever he has gone throughout his career.  In 1981, Weill sold his first company, brokerage firm Shearson Loeb Rhoads, to American Express for nearly $1 billion.  After serving as President for American Express for a short time, he bought the Commercial Credit division of Control Data Corporation and rejuvenated the division.  Weill  later merged the company with Primerica, and then acquired Travelers Insurance.  The company took the name Travelers Group.

Weill had accomplished a lot, but his hope to create a “one-stop-shop” for consumer banking was yet to be achieved.  In 1998, Weill got one step closer by merging Travelers Group with Citicorp in a $76 billion deal.  The company took the name Citigroup and was one of the world’s largest financial services companies.  This was the largest merger in history at the time.

Weill was CEO of Citigroup until 2003, and stayed on as chairman until 2006.  In 2009, shortly after Weill’s departure from the company, the financial crisis almost led to Citigroup’s demise.   Many believe that Weill’s attempt to create a financial supermarket spurred the Great Recession of 2008.  Weill was placed on Time Magazine’s list of “25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis.”

The financial crisis hurt Weill financially, but recovering Citigroup shares have restored his place on the Forbes billionaire list. Weill and his wife are now active philanthropists, having been honored with a Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in 2009.


Rick Wagoner – General Motors

In 2000, G. Richard “Rick” Wagoner was named CEO of General Motors.  Wagoner, appointed at the age of 47, was the youngest CEO in GM history.  Wagoner was successful in his early years with the company, being named Executive of the Year by Automotive Industries in 2001.

In 2003, Wagoner faced adversity.  Increased competition, government regulation, and massive pension and health care costs made it very difficult for GM to turn a profit.  Japanese car companies, such as Nissan, Honda, and Toyota, had become more popular as well.  The company’s revenue decreased by 2.4% in 2003.  Wagoner promised the public a turnaround in profits, but the market situation made this a very difficult promise to keep.

General Motors continued having financial difficulties while Wagoner was criticized by the public for flaunting his wealth openly.  A report released in 2007 showed that Wagoner received over $14 million in compensation. A later incident revealed Wagoner arriving to a company hearing in a private jet, which landed him on the wrong side of public criticism.  Wagoner was also disparaged for resisting to invest in electric, and hybrid cars.

The financial crisis of 2008 hurt General Motors immensely, having caused the company to declare bankruptcy later in 2009.  The Troubled Asset Relief Program, a group of programs run by the US Treasury to stabilize the country’s economy following the 2008 financial crisis, invested about $50 billion in General Motors.  Part of this agreement with the Obama Administration included that Rick Wagoner would have to resign as CEO to provide further funding.

Since resigning as CEO, Wagoner has spent his time advising startup companies.   In April 2017, Wagoner was appointed to the board of ChargePoint Inc., the world’s largest electric vehicle charging network.  Many find this ironic because of his opposition to electrification during his tenure with General Motors.


Lee R. Raymond – ExxonMobil

Lee R. Raymond began working at Exxon in 1963.  Raymond worked his way up the ranks, eventually working in a refinery in Aruba, where he turned profits around.  Raymond was appointed CEO of Exxon in 1993. In 1998 Exxon merged with Mobil to create ExxonMobil.  The merger was very successful, and the company increased its earnings by $1.2 billion in the first year of the merger.

Raymond maintained his position as CEO of Exxon-Mobil after the two companies merged.  Following the merger’s completion, Raymond cut costs by cutting many employees.  Within four years of the merger, Raymond had let go about 16,000 employees.

Lee R. Raymond was a very private person.  He prided himself on keeping his personal life private from the media.  Raymond was said to be extremely smart.  His colleagues noted that he rarely sought advice from others, and never had a clear number two.  Many people who he worked with found Raymond to be arrogant.

Although many competitors, such as BP, Amoco, and Shell, were researching renewable resources, Raymond resisted.  Raymond stated that ExxonMobil would stand by oil and stay away from renewable sources of energy.  Being the CEO of an oil giant, Raymond had to deal with environmentalist protestors.  Raymond dismissed the idea of global warming, claiming it to be a hoax.  However, Raymond often mentioned the company’s initiative to work with car manufacturers to reduce vehicle emissions.

Lee R. Raymond was set to retire in 2003 at the age of 65 but delayed his retirement until 2005 so the company could groom a new CEO.  Raymond had a very successful career as CEO of ExxonMobil, increasing the market value fourfold to $375 billion.  In April 2006, it was announced that Raymond’s retirement package was worth about $400 million, the largest in history for a US public company.  Today, Lee R. Raymond sits on the board of JP Morgan Chase & Co.


These former CEO’s prove that large corporations had their struggles retaining great executives without the price of public humility, financial loss, or multiple transitions.