Just like my many stories of fraud, there will never be any shortage of stories about CEOs behaving badly. I’ve witnessed several notable incidents myself during my career as the Turnaround Authority and include many of the more salacious ones in my book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes” in the section called The CEO Can’t Keep It Zipped. You can figure out what those stories are about.
It’s not just philandering that gets CEOs in trouble. The latest tale comes from the CEO of T-Mobile, whose mamma apparently neglected to inform him that you don’t go to parties to which you have not been invited. Claiming he was a fan of the band Macklemore, John Legere crashed a private concert party in Las Vegas hosted by competitor AT&T with whom he’s been engaged in a public battle after AT&T offered T-Mobile customers $200 in credit to switch. He was barely there for 20 minutes, long enough to have his photo posted on Twitter, before he was escorted out of the party.
Of course, the flashy CEO attempted to turn the event to his advantage, and milked his expulsion for everything he could on social media, making himself the talk of the International Consumer Electronics Show.
Jason Goldberg founded Fab.com, an online shopping site. He took to Facebook to express his dissatisfaction with a fellow passenger on a flight from Stockholm to Newark who had the audacity to turn down his offer of $100 to switch seats with him. The other passenger’s lame excuse? He wanted to sit close to his family. “Who does that? … Grrr.” Goldberg posted, exposing both his arrogance and disdain for people who seem to care about their family members.
Tumblr founder David Karp managed to alienate his entire workforce when he attended the Cannes Lion International Festival in June. He went there to talk with advertisers, but apparently became impressed with the crowd he was addressing. “You guys are more talented than anyone in the Tumblr office or in Palo Alto or Sunnyvale. We’re constantly in awe. Constantly in service.” I doubt he got much of a welcome back party on his return.
The CEO of Barilla Pasta Company found himself in very hot water. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.) For some reason, Guido Barilla felt it was important to let the world know that he would never have gay people in his ads. “We won’t include gays in our ads, because we like the traditional family. If gays don’t like it, they can always eat another brand of pasta.” He later claimed he “simply wanted to highlight the central role of women in the family.”
I didn’t read much response from women, many of whom may not feel that their central role is to boil noodles, but one gay person politely responded. Aurelio Mancuso, president of Equality Italia, said, “We accept his invitation to not eat his pasta.”
Meanwhile Barilla US fought the huge PR crisis he dumped on that division by apologizing profusely on Twitter and Facebook.
CEOs who behave badly may enjoy the resulting publicity or just may not have anticipated how widely news of their antics would be spread. Whatever the reason, it’s a dangerous game. They risk alienating their customers, who may also invite themselves not to use their products or services.
It’s a good reminder that when you are a CEO or business owner and are interviewed or go on social media, you are always representing the company, not just yourself.