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There are many things in life for which there is a so-called ‘grey’ line - something midway between good and bad. The ability to manage a business and guide it in the right direction, however, does not fall among them. On the one hand, we have visionary CEOs like Steve Jobs (whatever naysayers might have to say about his general attitude at work), Bill Gates, and more recently, Mark Zuckerberg - who have become household names. And then, there’s the polar opposites - business leaders who have proved to be epic failures, coming close to dragging their companies down with them. We will here take a look at the ‘feats’ of a few such horrible CEOs: Meg Whitman (eBay) - Whitman wanted nothing but the best out of her employees - but her methods for doing so were far from being motivational. Her temper was perpetually frayed, and swear words (including frequent use of the ‘f-word’) were a prominent part of her vocabulary at workplace. She once famously threw a phone(!) at a colleague - simply because the eBay site was down for a day. Young Mi Kim, a junior employee, was brusquely pushed by Whitman in front of media personnel - and eBay had to cough up a fairly large lawsuit settlement for that. Soon after, Whitman stepped down, and everyone at eBay celebrated! Ken Lay (Enron) - Corruption was the middle name of Mr. Lay. He was slippery enough to never get caught during his tenure as Enron CEO (1985 - 2002) though. Four years later, Lay’s luck ran out - and it was found that he had been involved in as many as ten different security frauds. As luck would have it, he did not have to suffer punishment for his shady deeds either. Only days before being sentenced, Lay died at Colarado. Tommy Sopwith (Sopwith Aviation Company) - Let’s rewind to the early years of the 20th century for a bit now. Sopwith’s company, which specialized in making military aircrafts, flourished during World War I - with bulk demands coming in regularly. What he did not realize was that, the war won’t last forever, and civil aircrafts would soon be required. After remaining static for years, Sopwith made a last-ditch attempt to revive his company by modifying his planes and buying ABC Motors. It was, predictably, not enough, and Sopwith’s career was practically over by the early 20s. Robert Allen (AT&T) - The line between being ambitious and overly greedy is a fine one, and Allen unabashedly transgressed it - during his 11-year stay at the helm of AT&T. His worst blunder (or was it a cunning move to benefit himself?) was overseeing the merger of AT&T with NCR Corporation - a deal which pushed up his personal earnings and made his company lose close to $13 million USD. What’s more, Robert Allen was extremely trigger-happy, as far as firing his employees was concerned. Under his supervision, around 50000 people lost their jobs, and during a board meeting in 1996, he even bragged about his ruthlessness. John Sculley (Apple Inc) - When you conspire to get one of the best CEOs of the century (Steve Jobs) ousted from his own company - that automatically qualifies you as a horribly bad business leader. Sculley did precisely that in 1983, when Jobs left and formed NeXT. Over the next decade, Apple plummeted in terms of popularity, its product line lost their charm, and almost every major competitor trumped the company. In 1993, Sculley had to bring Jobs back, and make way himself. In fact, most Apple software developers and iPhone app developers feel that Sculley should top this list - so outrageous were his strategies! Chuck Conway (Kmart) - When Conway became the head of Kmart, the company was already reeling from a series of failed business partnerships. Instead of stabilizing Kmart and making it a decent competitor of Walmart (as Conway initially promised), the man made sure that the company officially went bankrupt during his tenure. Conway indulged in several accounting frauds and wilful mismanagement of balance sheets - while ensuring that shareholders got a rosy picture of the business. As Kmart was on its way of going kaput, Conway bought up plush houses and private planes. Mark Hurd (HP) - Hurd was the CEO of HP from 2005 to 2010, and within this relatively short time-span, he managed to give ‘workplace favoritism’ a whole new meaning. Hurd (nicknamed ‘Turd’ by his disgusted employees) helmed high-volume job cuts (over 10000 people were dispensed with in the IT department alone), pay-cuts, and the shutdown of several production centers. Under Hurd’s watch, the concept of profit-sharing took a backseat at HP - and everyone was relieved when he left. Jon Corzine (MF Global) - One year was all the time it took Corzine to bring MF Global to its knees. Trading activities stopped, and the company had to declare bankruptcy - chiefly because Corzine was misusing the funds of customers’ funds, on the sovereign debts of Europe. The underhand activities of Corzine came back to haunt him soon though, with the federal regulatory authorities taking notice - and he had to respond to summons from a House Committee. Not a mean feat for a 1-year CEO to feature among the worst business leaders ever! Bernard Ebbers (Worldcom) - Ebbers built a more than decent reputation for himself, when he started out at Worldcom. With the help of a series of smart acquisitions (the buyout of MCI is probably the most noteworthy), he brought Worldcom within touching distance of AT&T, the market leader. Then came his super blooper - the attempt to purchase Sprint. The deal kept running into troubled waters, plenty of people opined against it (Ebbers did not pay heed to them, of course), and Worldcom started to bleed money. To cover up for his failures and to keep up his uber-rich lifestyle, reporting frauds, accounts mismanagement and information withholding from shareholders followed. Ebbers was initially highly regarded by telecom and mobile software experts - but then greed took over. Carly Fiorina (HP) - Before Mark Hurd took over, HP employees were being bullied along by Carly Fiorina - arguably a worse CEO than her successor. Her tenure can be summed up in terms of figures - 5 private jets, 1 private yacht, 31000+ firings and a decline of nearly 50% in HP’s stock prices. Fiorina coerced her employees to accept voluntary pay reductions, and shockingly, persuaded outgoing employees to provide training to their replacements. Sick and tired of her anti-employee tactics and over overdependence on outsourcing, HP offered her a ‘golden handshake’ in 2005. Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo (Nokia) - If you had to hold one person responsible for the downturn in Nokia’s fortunes after the mid-2000s, Kallasvuo would be that man. He took over as company CEO in 2006, a year before Apple released iPhone. Kallasvuo either did not, or was not bothered enough, to realize the huge effect of the upcoming smartphone revolution. In the next few years, sales plummeted as sophisticated touchscreen phones and iPhone/Android apps grew popular. After causing enough damage, Kallasvuo stepped down in 2010. John Rigas (Adelphia Communications) - The man is currently serving a 15-year jail sentence. That should tell you something about the sort of frauds he masterminded during his period at the head of Adelphia. Rigas’ story is another classic case of good intentions gone awry: he founded Adelphia Communications in 1952, built a strong reputation for his company, and then made sure that it fell from grace in 2002, when it was declared bankrupt. Investigations revealed that Rigas had been misusing clients’ money to buy up other companies (under the names of family-members). He was finally caught after having pocketed a cool $100 million - and has since been in a prison. Bill Seawell (Pan Am), Jonathan Schwartz (Sun Microsystems), and James Cayne (Bear Sterns) also deserve honorable mentions in any list of worst CEOs of all time. Opinions about Microsoft’s ex-CEO, Steve Ballmer, is also decidedly mixed - particularly due to his rather eccentric behavior at office (he once took away the iPhone of a junior employee and pretended to step on it!). Good CEOs become famous due to their nuanced business acumen and drive, but the bad ones also etch their space in corporate history - just like these horrible ones have done!
The third quarter of 2014 has started brightly for the Hindi film industry, with ‘Singham Returns’ and ‘Mardaani’ going great guns at the box-office. Let’s do a round-up of the other eagerly anticipated films of the year.