The Great Tech CEO Massacre of 2013

When disruption comes, heads roll.

Acer CEO J.T. Wang will resign his post following massive financial losses.

“Acer encountered many complicated and harsh challenges in the past few years,” he wrote in a statement. “With the consecutive poor financial results, it is time for me to hand over the responsibility to a new leadership team to path the way for a new era.” The company reported a $446 million net loss in the third quarter, following a $236 million loss in the second quarter, as the PC market has stagnated.

Wang isn’t the only technology CEO to lose out in recent months. BlackBerry announced Nov. 4 that CEO Thorsten Heins is stepping down from his post; under Heins’ watch, BlackBerry tried (and failed) to recapture the smartphone market with BlackBerry 10, the next-generation operating system built to fight toe-to-toe with Apple’s iOS and Google Android. In August, longtime Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer abruptly announced he would leave his company within the next year, a decision greeted with cheers from those who thought he failed to react quickly enough to the burgeoning mobile-device and search markets.

All three CEOs ran companies that, at a certain point in time, dominated their respective markets—but time moved on. Once a leader in smartphones, BlackBerry saw its commanding market-share degrade in the face of aggressive competition from Apple and Google; the rising BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend, in which BlackBerry’s corporate-client strongholds ended up undermined by a flood of iPhones and Android smartphones, didn’t help matters either.

The rise of mobile devices also harmed Microsoft, which—despite having researched the category for years before Apple released the first iPhone and iPad—failed to push out respectable smartphone and tablet platforms until the market was already well-saturated by rival offerings. And while Microsoft has pivoted to embrace the cloud market, it still lags far behind Google in search; nor have its other next-generation initiatives, including app stores, gained the same degree of traction as rival offerings. Ballmer has been widely blamed for not capitalizing quickly enough on emerging marketplace trends, something that may have contributed to his resignation.

Microsoft is also suffering somewhat from the increasingly anemic PC market, as it derives a significant portion of its revenue from software licenses sold to manufacturers. But given its diverse businesses, it’s not suffering quite as badly as hardware OEMs such as Acer, which are trying to develop more robust presences in tablets and smartphones even as their core PC businesses corrode beneath them. J.T. Wang failed to adjust Acer’s business to deal with this new reality, and it ultimately cost him.

There are plenty of counterexamples to these three failures. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, neatly pivoted his social network to profit from mobile; Google’s executives have proven nimble enough to beat back several competitors in search and smartphone software. But not all CEOs have the luck (or smarts) to ride out industry-wide disruptions—the only question is who’ll next find his or her neck on the (proverbial) chopping block.

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