by Tom Kaneshige

10 Dumbest Things Tech CEOs Have Said and Done

Oct 01, 20136 mins
IT Leadership

As a rule, CEOs in the technology industry tend to be a pretty bright group. Their vision, passion and leadership have changed the world. BUT they also have moments that leave the rest of us wondering, "Are they really that dumb?"

Credit: Thinkstock

Elite tech CEOs of Silicon Valley live rich and powerful lives – and they work hard for it. Like rock stars, all-star athletes and high-ranking politicians, they are a special breed. Yet sometimes their status leads them to get out of touch with the commoner. Who are we kidding? They can be downright clueless when it comes to the rest of us. It would be easy to highlight all their accomplishments and contributions to business and society, but it’s so much more fun to focus on these 10 really futile and stupid gestures on the part of tech’s top executives.

Larry Ellison: Start the Keynote Without Me

Larry Ellison: Start the Keynote Without Me

Image by Oracle Photos + D. Ramey Logan/Wikipedia Creative Commons

In September, thousands of Oracle customers and partners came to Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco, in part to hear CEO Larry Ellison deliver the daily keynote. Ellison, though, skipped his duties to watch Oracle Team USA stage a thrilling comeback in the America’s Cup sailing race. Many attendees got up and left the room. Sure, Ellison has spent a lot of dough on Oracle Team USA – but it’s still just a hobby. If anyone else put their hobby in front of their job, they might not have a job to come back to.

Meg Whitman: Everybody Ought to Have a Maid

Meg Whitman: Everybody Ought to Have a Maid

Image by Max Morse/Wikipedia Creative Commons

Between stints as CEO of Ebay and Hewlett-Packard, Meg Whitman made a run to be the next California governor – and she could have won it, too, if not for that meddling illegal maid. Whitman, who poured $119 million of her own money into her campaign, had been calling for harsh penalties for companies that hire illegal immigrants. Turns out, she had employed an illegal immigrant housekeeper for nine years. Then she got caught trying to cover up her knowledge about it. Oh, the illegal immigrant was fired.

Steve Jobs: A Little Collusion Never Hurt Anyone

Steve Jobs: A Little Collusion Never Hurt Anyone

Image by Pommiebastards/Flickr + Thinkstock

For years, Apple CEO Steve Jobs had an agreement with competitors to not poach skilled workers from each other. Jobs even threatened Palm with a patent suit to enforce the secret no-hire pact. This hurt Silicon Valley workers trying to shop their skills on the open market and land a better job. Apparently, competition and ability to make more money is solely the province of the elite. In 2010, Google, Apple, Adobe, Intel, Intuit and Pixar agreed to a settlement stemming from a U.S. Justice Department probe into the no-hire practice.

Eric Schmidt: What? My Emails Leave a Trail, Too?

Eric Schmidt: What? My Emails Leave a Trail , Too?

Image by Guillaume Paumier/Wikipedia Creative Commons

The no-poaching pact didn’t stop with Steve Jobs. Google CEO Eric Schmidt showed his clueless side in an email exchange with other Google execs about the firing of an HR employee who violated the no-poaching pact. One of the execs wrote, “Please make a public example of this termination with the group. I want it clear that we have a zero-tolerance policy for violating our policies.” Now here’s the clueless part: Schmidt responded, “I would prefer that Omid [Kordestani] do it verbally, since I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later?” Yup, no paper trail there.

Scott Thompson: I Really Meant to Get That Degree

Scott Thompson: I Really Meant to Get That Degree

Image by Yodel Anecdotal/Yahoo! Inc. + Thinkstock

It takes a lot of brass to put a computer science degree on your resume when you don’t have one. But that’s exactly what Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson did, only to be caught and ousted last year. When the lie first surfaced, Thompson stayed mum. Then he tried to dismiss it, shift blame onto the recruiting firm and rustle up support to keep his job. “When he didn’t get it, he tried to silence people,” a board member told the New York Times. On his way out, he issued a non-apology apology, and now he’s CEO of ShopRunner. Message to Yahoo engineers who actually earned a computer science degree: Suckers!

Marissa Meyer: In-Office Nurseries Aren’t Standard for Every Working Mom?

Marissa Meyer: In-Office Nurseries Aren’t Standard for Every Working Mom?

Image by Adam Tinworth/Flickr + Thinkstock

One of the first decisions Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer (who replaced Scott Thompson) made was to ban working remotely. The decision itself isn’t what landed Meyer on this list. Rather, Meyer’s sudden mandate seemed a little heartless to working mothers who were left scrambling for daycare. After all, Meyer had accepted Yahoo’s top post while six months pregnant and was considered to be an ally for working mothers. Then again, CEOs aren’t subject to the troubles of the working class. Meyer had a nursery built in her office so she could bring her child to work.

Mark Hurd: Chicks Dig Me …

Mark Hurd: Chicks Dig Me

Image by Hartman Studios/Wikipedia Creative Commons + Thinkstock

Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd got caught up in a sexual harassment scandal involving a former Playboy model and HP contractor, Jodie Fisher, which eventually led to his ouster. The full depth of his hubris can be summed up in a letter sent to him by Fisher’s attorney, Gloria Allred, later published by the New York Times. The letter provides some of the uncomfortable details, such as Hurd “telling [Fisher] about many different women that were crazy about [him]… including Sheryl Crow.” Can you say Superman complex?

Mike Lazaridis: Forget Siri, This Keyboard Thing Rocks

Mike Lazaridis: Forget Siri, This Keyboard Thing Rocks

Image by Dmitriy Smirnov/Wikipedia Creative Commons

The co-CEO of RIM isn’t from Silicon Valley, nor does he have a juicy story to tell. Nevertheless, he was a tech chief profoundly out of step with the rest of us, which not only led to his resignation but the downfall of a multi-billion-dollar company. When asked in 2008 what he thought was the most exciting mobile trend, Lazaridis said: “Full Qwerty keyboards. I’m sorry, it really is. I’m not making this up.” Here, in a nutshell, is why the company formerly known as RIM lost everything in the smartphone market.

Mark Zuckerberg: Maybe 30 Is the New 20

Mark Zuckerberg:  Maybe 30 Is the New 20

Image by Jason McElweenie/Wikipedia Creative Commons + Caveman Chuck/Flickr

Silicon Valley is full of amazing talent from every generation, from super-smart GenX computer engineers to millennial marketing geniuses to Baby Boomer visionaries. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is one of the smartest guys around. But he must not have had his thinking cap on when speaking to a crowd at a venture capital conference in 2007. The then-22-year-old said with a straight face: “Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30? I don’t know. Young people just have simpler lives.” If true, Zuckerberg is now 29 and fast approaching idiocy.

Big Three Auto CEOs: I Told You We Should Have Flown Coach

Big Three Auto CEOs:  I Told You We Should Have Flown Coach

Image by Thinkstock

Okay, so these guys aren’t really “tech” CEOs, although their companies’ cars are pretty technical. But if we’re talking about dumb, out-of-touch CEOs, we just have to put them on the list. In 2008, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli and Ford CEO Alan Mulally came to Washington D.C. with hat in hand. They had fallen on tough times and needed a $25 billion bailout from taxpayers. They promised to streamline their businesses. There was just one problem with their message. Clueless, each of them had flown private luxury jets to the meeting to ask the commoner for a handout.