The Harder They Fall....
Losing your job is tough no matter who you are or what you do. However we tend to assume that CEO's are in such high demand that they find another position fairly easily. Leaving aside the fact that these jobs are much rarer than other positions (there is only one CEO per company remember). The stigma that gets attached to a CEO that gets fired is also a strong factor.
Local headhunter Michael Stern has a very good article in Canadian Business talking about CEO's who have lost their jobs and the challenges they face. It's a very interesting read and here are some money quotes:
As an executive search consultant, I have interviewed hundreds of CEOs and senior executives across Canada. In my experience, few people ever consider life after CEO. Those who are in the top spot now, or those gunning for it, tend to think of chief executive as an earned title they will bear until the day they retire. They never expect to have another job where they are not in charge.
When setbacks happen, some fortunate CEOs move right into another top job, never surrendering their title or prestige. For most, however, it's a tough climb back. Some ex-CEOs avoid dealing with this by jumping off the fast track altogether. They become self-employed consultants, providing valuable advice for a fee to former industry colleagues and, often, competitors. Best of all, they are still the person in charge--even if they work only 10 hours a week and their office is in the rec room.
In my opinion, it takes more guts to [..] stay active in the business arena.
If you wait for the perfect job to come along, you may be sitting at home (or paying for your own tickets to industry conferences) for a long time. At some point you have to get off the fence and decide which is more important: regaining the title and prestige you lost, or getting on with your life and career.
Everyone has a best-before date. It varies from industry to industry, and of course everyone knows that CEO jobs don't come open every day. Still, as a recruiter, I can vouch that any senior job-seeker who has been on the shelf for half a year is starting to get stale
Execs who wish to stay in the game should have realistic goals. Even if your objective is to be CEO again, I find it's best to define your success in stages. You may not get your title back for a while. Maybe success for you, at first, will be to get your phone calls returned. Maybe success will be making it through to the second or third interview. If you stay focused on the process, gaining confidence from your incremental "wins," you may just have the inner strength, wisdom and vision to climb all the way back to the top.
Of course, the best way to avoid setbacks is to manage your career properly while you are safely employed. Some people join their industry associations only after they lose their jobs. The smart people join early and devote a set amount of time to associations, committees, industry conferences and other activities that increase the size of their networks.