Just four days into October and four bosses of FTSE 100 constituents have said they’re stepping down, with BP PLC (LON:BP.), Tesco PLC (LON:TSCO), Imperial Brands PLC (LON:IMB), and J Sainsbury PLC (LON:SBRY) all announcing senior figures are moving on.

Add to this the high-profile departures from Metro Bank PLC (LON:MTRO) and Centamin PLC (LON:CEY) and the City was buzzing with speculation on who would be next up for the chop. 

According to Square Mile veteran David Buik, the rush of departures is down to slumping share prices putting pressure on bosses.

“Shareholders are much more active now,” said Buik, with demands that CEOs “give a bloody good reason” when a company underperforms, and “if they can’t, they’ve got to go”.

Buik says that a good example is Alison Cooper, who lost her grip on tobacco company Imperial Brands when shares in the company, which is favoured by pension funds, tanked 30% in a year: “We needed to see some recovery in that share price, and we haven’t.”

Imperial shareholders complained that the planned sale of the company’s premium cigar business fell far short of what is needed to revive the tobacco company’s fortunes.

Confidence in her leadership was also dented by a slump at US e-cigarettes brand Blu, which she acquired in 2014, on the threat of a ban on e-cigarettes a series of young people’s deaths were linked to vaping.

Rowing downstream

Marks & Spencer PLC (LON:MKS)’s chief executive Steve Rowe also looks on borrowed time after the retailer dropped out of the FTSE 100 last month and annual results in May showed sales had fallen 3.6% from the previous year.

The company sacked its fashion boss Jill McDonald in July, declaring an urgent need to speed the transformation of its waning fortunes.

Chief financial officer Humphrey Singer stepped down in September after only 18 months with the retailer, followed two days later by logistics boss Gordon Mowat.

Neil Wilson at Markets.com says that “a whole load of people leaving” is a bad sign and that there are “clearly some concerns over strategy”.

In October Peel Hunt analyst Jonathan Pritchard noted: “The deep-rooted problems in clothing and home seem no nearer than ever to being solved and management admits being 18 months behind schedule.”

“We see very little to inspire under 40s to switch to M&S designs. By M&S’s own research the brand is still seen as boring and old-fashioned.”

Trouble on Love Island

Another on the list of nervous CEOs is ITV PLC (LON:ITV) boss Carolyn McCall, says Neil Wilson of Markets.com.

The Love Island broadcaster’s share price has slumped 60% since 2015, with adjusted underlying profits falling by 13% to £327mln in the first half of the year.

Wilson says ITV has “a battle on its hands with Netflix and advertising revenues on the down”.

Although McCall raised the media company’s cost savings programme to a target of £20mln this year, Wilson warns “there’s not any sense that she’s turning the ship around”.

Broker Liberum has speculated that a potential re-transmission deal with Sky by the end of the year, which could bring in up to £120mln annualised revenues from 2020, might keep shareholders at bay. 

A Coupe at Sainsbury’s

Gossip continues over whether Mike Coupe can hang on after five years at the helm of Sainsbury’s and city veterans say they’ll “be surprised if he lasts the year out”.

Although the supermarket chain has denied any plans to replace the chief executive, Coupe’s departure has been a subject of speculation since Sainsbury’s agreed merger with Asda was blocked by the UK Competition & Markets Authority in April.

Sainsbury’s shares have lost nearly a third of their value since February, trading at 207p in early October.

Wilson says that Coupe’s intention is “obviously to style it out” but “that doesn’t mean that the board and investors are going to be happy for him to stay forever”.

Analysts at Shore Capital noted the recent ship-jumping of Coupe’s heir-apparent Argos boss John Rogers who will become WPP’s chief financial officer and called it “the clearest signal yet that Coupe is going nowhere”.

Banking on it

Barclays PLC (LON:BARC) boss Jes Staley only narrowly avoided 5.5% stakeholder Edward Bramson’s attempt in April to force his way onto the board and change the bank’s strategy, and Wilson says that although the bid failed, “that doesn’t mean it’s going away”.

The activist investor has repeatedly pressured Barclays to shrink its investment bank, which he claims would boost profits and a share price that has lost 15% of its value since the year began.

It also came as Barclays was hit by a surprise revolt over pay when nearly 30% of its shareholders voted against its remuneration report, announcing Barclays chief Jes Staley would rake in £3.4mln from 2018.

Buik explains: “CEOs get very, very well remunerated over a period of time.

“We’ve had a time when the large fund managers have abrogated their responsibilities and waved through salary increases, bonuses, and share incentive schemes to people who frankly haven’t deserved them and I think fund managers are now more discerning than they were.”