It may have started with Lee Iacocca when he ran Chrysler. Or maybe it was Jack Welch and his amazing run at General Electric. Or perhaps it was the debut of CNBC in 1989, the business world's version of ESPN where CEOs are celebrated like superstar athletes.
And the tech era ushered in an even more intense focus on those guys (yes, it's been mostly men) at the top of juggernauts that include Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and their successors. As Jeff Bezos became one of the world's richest men, and social media entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg have become the face of their companies, we're living in the age of the celebrity CEO.
But just as salaries, bonuses, benefits, and perks have mushroomed over the decades, so have the golden parachutes that accompany the termination of the boss for any number of reasons. its challenging to lord over a mega-company even during sunny economic times. It is not so easy to adhere to the strategic vision, stay focused, and keep a steady hand on the tiller during a shit storm.
So today's JacoBLOG looks at CEOs in the crosshairs – leaders who are under fire because it's simply not going well. (And all have themselves to blame).
Let's start with the 800 pound gorilla in the room:
Twitter's Twit – Someday, perhaps soon, there will be PhD dissertations written about Elon Musk and his Twitter folly. Unless there's an underlying strategy few understand, the guy who revolutionized the auto world with Tesla and created a commercial space company is the same guy who seems to be systematically driving Twitter into the ground – at Mach 3.
Even a rich guy must value the $44 billion he paid for a grossly underperforming social media platform, right? But Musk appears to be dismantling people in record time. He may be right that it doesn't require 7,000+ employees to run a company like Twitter. But whatever money he's saving on salary and benefits may be cancelled out by advertising cancellations (heading into the holiday season, no less), and user departures. Of course, now that Twitter is no longer public, we will (likely) not be privy to all the gory details of its decapitation.
It's hard to understand exactly what's going on here, especially given Musk's urgency to back out of deal he first proffered. When the courts ruled “a deal's a deal,” Musk has jumped into the fray, making big moves, including the reinstatement of the former President. Trump has yet to grab his phone and launch one of his patented “tweet storms.” His last tweet was posted on January 8, 2021, two days after the you-know-what.
And then there's the “blue checkmark” fiasco – Jesus Christ still has a verified account, apparently paying $8/month for the privilege – as do all sorts of other imposter account holders.
It's as if Musk is writing the “I Alone Can Fix It” chapter and verse for his newly acquired company. As someone who's been an “unverified” Twitter P1 for many years now, I am somewhat distressed about “the neighborhood” going downhill, and I am resigned to move elsewhere, and perhaps soon. If you're so inclined, Seth Resler wrote a great blog post yesterday, “Dear Radio Industry: Yes, You Can Ditch Twitter.” I highly recommend it.
In the meantime, how this Twitter debacle turns out could have a lot to do with shaping Musk's legacy. Will he find a way to miraculously turn Twitter's fortunes around, including his own missteps? Or will he tube a unique and once high-flying social media network and go the way of Friendster and MySpace?
Anybody got two tickets to the Taylor Swift show? – Twitter's a mess. Ticketmaster may be worse, still reeling from the Taylor Swift fiasco, a technical labyrinth that seems to get gnarlier by the day. So, our second CEO story is about whoever it is who runs that company. Can you think of his name?
Rolling Stone called buying tickets for Taylor's “Eras Tour” the equivalent of playing “Hunger Games.” It has gotten so bad she put out the following statement on Instagram:
You don't me to tell you just how frustrating it is to watch your biggest fans jump through Ticketmaster's hoops. Taylor has a great audience relationship and a powerful brand. Her legions of acolytes will forget it ever happened, and they certainly won't blame her.
Now, Ticketmaster. That's another story. The Justice Department has announced an investigation of the company's practices, and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has been one its most outspoken political critics.
And you'd think the vitriol would be reserved for Ticketmaster's CEO. But amid all these convoluted stories about this concert ticket disaster, do you even know his name?
I found several articles where Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei is quoted. His company is the parent of Live Nation who merged with Ticketmaster back in 2010. Maffei has stated the company is “working hard on this,” citing outrageous demand and bots gumming up the works.
Maffei has been the go-to spokesperson, showing up on program's like CNBC's “Squawk on the Street.” But Ticketmaster's CEO? His name rarely comes up in these stories where journalists try to get to the bottom of this mess.
Note that Taylor Swift doesn't name names either. In fact, her statement doesn't even reference Ticketmaster, although you get the feeling she'd can them if she could figure out a better alternative.
Ticketmaster's CEO is Michael Rapino (pictured). He hasn't exactly flown below the radar, but he's been shrouded by parent Live Nation. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he had this to say to investors at a Liberty Media press day last week:
“There's no nice way to tell 10 million Swifties, ‘There's no tickets.' So they do what they do and go to social and we deal with that every day.”
Oh, those crazy fans. Now the ones with the most money will be stuck dealing with even higher prizes on the secondary market using sellers like StubHub.
What about Bobs? – And the final CEO tale is even more shocking than the these first two nightmares because it is all about one of the most stable and successful media and entertainment conglomerates of them all:
The Walt Disney Company.
Over the weekend, they shocked the business world with the announcement their former CEO – Bob Iger – was replacing his replacement at Disney, Bob Chapek. Interestingly, Chapek was given a 3-year extension this past June when the company's board was apparently happier with his performance.
Iger was a tough act to follow. And Chapek moved into Disney's corner office in February 2020, underscoring his spectacularly bad timing.
Then, controversies including Scarlet Johannson's lawsuit over compensation for the superhero film, “Black Widow” surfaced.
And then the dustup with Governor Ron DeSantis over the company's apparent “wokeness.” Some believe Chapek was slow to respond to Florida's Parental Rights in Education Act, angering members of his workforce. When he eventually pushed back against the law, DeSantis went to war with Mickey Mouse.
So, politics are in the mix at the CEO change at the top, reportedly “blindsiding” Chapek who didn't see it coming. And for Disney, Iger's return may turn out to be the right move (Disney stock rose 6% yesterday).
But it certainly doesn't follow the fairy tale script we're used to seeing from Disney. So much for great storytelling.
Three recent stories in the business, entertainment, and media world – and three CEO performances that leave much to be desired. They're only human, a fact they don't always realize themselves.
Thanks to Lori Lewis and Marty Davis. – FJ