Why We Should Stop Worshipping CEOs
The Chief Executive Officer turned celebrity has been around since the turn of the 20th century. Think of Annie's fictional billionaire Daddy Warbucks. Or oil
The Chief Executive Officer turned celebrity has been around since the turn of the 20th century. Think of Annie‘s fictional billionaire Daddy Warbucks. Or oil baron Gordon Getty. And we can’t forget Donald Trump. Before the presidential candidate became synonymous with far-right politics, the charismatic GOP shoo-in was known as much for his business savvy as he was a reality TV star. And now Silicon Valley, with its emphasis on youthful CEOs, has followed suit. And that’s not a good thing. Here’s why:
CEOs are in charge of running a company. They are the face of an entire enterprise. Above all else, they control salaries and pensions, making them in charge of hundreds and thousands of lives. Glamorizing these leaders by splashing their faces on the covers of magazines and turning their stories into Oscar-winning fodder (see: The Social Network or Steve Jobs) makes it much harder for the public to look at them objectively and hold them up to much-needed scrutiny. You know things are not right when Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and Landmark Theaters/star of NBC’s Shark Tank, can make a cameo on Disney’s Girl Meets World. And, really, why is Tesla CEO Elon Musk appearing on The Big Bang Theory? The list is endless: Bill Gates on Frasier, Richard Branson on Friends, Hawaiian Airlines CEO Mark Dunkerley on Hawaii Five-0. Magazine covers. In-depth Vanity Fair profiles. TMZ. Ugh.
Another problem is chronic over-compensation. Not only do we place CEOs on a gilded pedestal, we also overpay them egregiously. How many people in your department can muck up a their job and still receive a jaw-dropping multimillion dollar payout? The queue of incompetent CEOs who have collected multi-million dollar golden parachutes is staggering: Martin Winterkorn, former Volkswagen CEO, resigned after admitting the company intentionally installed software on at least 11 million diesel cars that led them to cheat on emissions tests. After getting the boot, he pulled in a cool 60 million euros (approximately $67 million) as well as the continued use of a company car. And Henrique De Castro, one-time Chief Operating Office at Yahoo, collected $109 million when he was fired by CEO Marissa Mayer after only 15 months on the job.
All of this praise, cash, and prize sure makes it hard to view them as leaders in need of constant, critical watchdogging. Speaking of, let’s take a look at some notable CEO who have behaved badly:
- Carly Fiorina and Mark Hud: Hewlett-Packard fired three CEOs in the course of six years. Fiorina and Hud being the most notable. The former sank their lead in the printer game, and the latter was booted after sexual harassment allegation.
- Christopher Kubasik: The Lockheed Martin CEO was promptly fired after it was revealed he had an improper relationship with a subordinate.
- Bernard Madoff: former CEO of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities made national headlines after swindling millions from clients. He ruined lives and went to jail. His son also killed himself due in part to the scandal.
- Scott Thompson: The former Yahoo CEO was fired from the company after it was revealed that he lied about his college major. Thompson claimed he held a degree in computer science.
- Ken Lay: After defrauding his company of more than $11 billion, the infamous Enron CEO was convicted of fraud and conspiracy, only to die before sentencing.
This list goes on and on.
The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor recommends dismantling the CEO golden parachute, suggesting: “[U]ntil corporations change how they treat the piles of stock options and restricted shares that executives typically become eligible to receive… lucrative golden parachutes are likely to remain fairly common.”
As far as Silicon Valley goes, some c-level entrepreneurs have started falling victim to their own misguided chutzpah and/or cluelessness. Greg Gopman, former AngelHack CEO, stepped down after writing a screed in which he bashed San Francisco’s homeless population. And RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal was arrested and convicted of domestic violence and battery. Sadly, not every CEO is going to be a Warren Buffett, CEO and largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway, someone who’s is as famous for his business savvy as he is for not being a dick.
Until the tech sector gets a few financial disasters under their belts, like the banking and financial industries, it could be only a matter of time until the public’s adoration of the start-up CEO goes from lust to bust.