“Ten years ago, innovation was based on features and functions,” says William Ruh, chief digital officer at General Electric . “Now it’s about your business model and transforming your industry.”

Before, companies could innovate by acquiring tech startups. But the top disrupters now grow so quickly and capture so much market share, they become too valuable to buy or are unwilling to sell. “It’s now a battle to the death,” says Mr. Ruh.

Mr. Fields did much that was good for Ford, returning consistent profits. But as it became clear the automotive market was entering a revolution of electric vehicles, self-driving technology and ride-sharing—with stars like Uber, Tesla, Lyft and Waymo starting to shine—Ford’s stock sank. The share price is down 40% since Mr. Fields took over three years ago.

Mr. Fields even set a course for adopting these emerging technologies. He just couldn’t do it fast enough for Ford and its shareholders.

Other CEOs are being dismissed as their businesses post losses in the face of tech-heavy competition. In the past year alone they include Ronald Boire of Barnes & Noble, GNC Holdings’ Mike Archbold and top executives at three of the six major Hollywood studios.

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