Does Writing Down Goodwill Imperil a CEO’s Job?

52 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2021 Last revised: 4 May 2021

See all articles by Arnold R. Cowan

Arnold R. Cowan

Iowa State University

Cynthia Jeffrey

Iowa State University

Qian Wang

Iowa State University - College of Business

Date Written: March 19, 2021


We find that accounting charges for goodwill impairment, which imply a deterioration in the capabilities of acquired assets to generate expected cash flows, provide useful indicators of CEO underperformance. We examine 5,990 firms that completed acquisitions and investigate the relation between CEO turnover and goodwill impairment during 2002–2016. The results show that the size of a goodwill impairment charge is positively associated with forced, but not voluntary, CEO turnovers. This implies that goodwill impairment provides information before CEO changes occur. We also find that unexpected goodwill impairment is more informative than expected goodwill impairment and is associated with forced CEO turnover. The association between goodwill impairment and forced CEO turnover varies with audit quality, suggesting the perceived reliability of accounting information influences CEO retention decisions. Given that the FASB may eliminate annual goodwill impairment testing (FASB, 2019a), research addressing the informativeness of goodwill impairment charges is timely.

Keywords: Goodwill impairment, CEO turnover, mergers and acquisitions

JEL Classification: G32, G34, M41

Suggested Citation

Cowan, Arnold R. and Jeffrey, Cynthia G. and Wang, Qian, Does Writing Down Goodwill Imperil a CEO’s Job? (March 19, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Arnold R. Cowan (Contact Author)

Iowa State University ( email )

College of Business
3344 Gerdin Business Building
Ames, IA 50011-1350
United States


Cynthia G. Jeffrey

Iowa State University ( email )

396 Carver Hall
320 Carver Hall
Ames, IA 50011-2063
United States
515-294-9427 (Phone)

Qian Wang

Iowa State University - College of Business ( email )

Ames, IA 50011-2063
United States

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