When Halloween rolls around, The Corner Office staff carve their pumpkins, put on their costumes, and sit around the fire telling scary CEO stories. Maybe that's weird, but it's what management nerds do. This is how we roll.
Now, the last thing I want to do is make brutal competition in a horrendous economy seem like fun and games. It's not. For the record, I have the greatest respect for anyone who spends his life climbing the corporate ladder, even if he does wipe out on the top rung.
So, I take this list very seriously and it took me a very, very long time to compile it. And if it just so happens to rub any of these CEOs the wrong way, I figure they're big boys and girls making plenty of dough. They'll get over it.
What's the criteria for making the list?
Ever carve a pumpkin? Know what's inside? Well, with all the pumpkin seed brains God gave them, these CEOs took their companies for a terrifying ride and scared the living crap out of their shareholders and employees.
Top 10 Scariest CEOs, 2011 EditionNumber 10: Reed Hastings, Netflix
I bet Hastings would do anything to get the last three months back. In a bold attempt to compensate for higher license fees and transition its business model from DVD rentals to streaming exclusive video content, Netflix announced a new price structure and then, well, all hell broke loose. Hastings maintains that the pricing strategy is solid; it's the way he implemented and communicated it that was flawed. We'll see, but members are bolting and the stock is down about 75 percent since July.
Number 9: Rob Gillette, First Solar
Eight months ago, Forbes named First Solar America's fastest growing tech company. That's when the sun started to set on the world's largest manufacturer of thin film solar panels. Indeed, the entire industry is reeling from weak demand and a glut of low-cost panels from China. After running the company for just two years, the board fired Gillette earlier this week, citing the need for "leadership change to navigate through the industry turmoil," according to chairman and founder Michael Ahearn. No kidding. First Solar shares have plummeted 70 since that Forbes article.
Number 8: Carol Bartz, Yahoo
As disasters go, Bartz wasn't nearly as spectacular as Jerry Yang. Still, she failed to pull off the turnaround that Yahoo so desperately needed and got what she deserved. I guess she just didn't have the chops for the brave new world of social media and mobile platforms dominated by the likes of Facebook and Google. Last month, chairman Roy Bostock picked up the phone and fired her. Seems fitting for the fierce and feisty Bartz who once said, "I always do my firing in the morning because that's when I'm fresh. I mean, why sit there all day thinking: I'm going to fire Joe at 4:59?"
Number 7: Tim Armstrong, AOL
It's hard to believe this is the same company that once all-but owned the internet and bought Time Warner for $160 billion. When you think about it, why should anybody be surprised that the company once again fell off a cliff after yet another high-profile IPO? Revenues continue to decline, losses continue to pile up, and Hail Mary passes like Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and web-based video aren't going to cut it. Shares are trading around half their 52-week high and I'd be surprised if the board isn't looking at "strategic alternatives" in the not-too-distant future. In other words, Armstrong is likely finished, although I'm not sure he ever really started.
Number 6: Dan Hesse, Sprint
Since Hesse took over as CEO nearly four years ago, Sprint has lost nearly $9 billion and the stock has lost 80 percent of its value. Hesse recently bet the company by committing to buy over 30 million iPhones over the next four years, whether they sell or not. Sure, he inherited a post-megamerger mess (Sprint Nextel) and the iPhone deal may very well pay off, but let me tell you, this is one long, scary ride that's far from over.
Click the Next > button to see the Top 5 Scariest CEOs of 2011 ...
Number 5: Brian Harrison, Solyndra
Yes, it's true that Intel veteran Harrison joined Solyndra after the controversial $528 million federal stimulus loan went through. Nevertheless, he essentially reassured investors and Congress, mind you, that all was well at the company, telling them that "Solyndra's financial condition was improving, and that Solyndra's revenues were growing," just six weeks before filing for bankruptcy protection and laying off 1,100 workers. When questioned by Congress, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to clam up. We'll see how long that lasts; the feds are just getting started.
Number 4: Antonio Perez, Kodak
Say what you want about Perez taking Kodak from an old film relic into the digital age, but during his eight-year tenure, revenues have declined 50 percent, the company has bled billions in red ink, and its share price has declined by 97 percent. Numbers don't lie. Perez failed to cut costs enough to save the company, which, at this point, will likely have to sell its patent portfolio to avoid bankruptcy.
Number 3: Mike Lazaridis & Jim Balsillie, Research In Motion
What's scarier than a clueless CEO running a $20 billion company with 17,000 employees? You guessed it: two of them. There was a time when you couldn't sit in a boardroom without four or five people checking their Blackberrys. Now RIM is the third company in a two-company smartphone race between Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platform. The not-so-dynamic duo also managed to completely botch the critical tablet transition. Shares of RIM have been in a free-fall, plummeting 85 percent over the past three years.
Number 2: Howard Stringer, Sony
Sony's a complete mess. Its problems didn't start with Stringer, but on his watch, the company lost $4.5 billion over the past three years and continued its long, slow decline into consumer electronics mediocrity. Shares of Sony have recently flirted with multi-decade lows. The company's in desperate need of an IBM-style turnaround. Unfortunately, Lou Gerstner isn't available.
Number 1: Leo Apotheker, HP
After a disastrous run as CEO of SAP, Apotheker was ousted and, for reasons nobody can figure out, was picked to run the world's largest IT company, HP. After doing a high-profile 180 on the much-anticipated TouchPad and WebOS, stupidly telegraphing his intent to sell the company's $41 billion PC group a year in advance, and generally trying to convert HP into a second-rate software company, HP's hapless board finally had enough and showed him the door.
Want to know the spookiest thing about this list? Every single one of these CEOs will end up somewhere else. Now that's scary.
Also check out:
- Will These 10 Brands Bite the Dust in 2012?
- Top 10 Reasons Why Smart People Do Dumb Things
- Busting the Bad Boss Myth
Images Solyanka via Flickr (Pumpkin) and HP (Leo Apotheker)