The World’s Best CEO Tirades

It’s not easy being top dog. CEOs have to deal with demanding customers, employees, investors, and the public at large on a regular basis. You can’t blame them for having a moment now and then.

Some CEOs, however, express themselves with reckless abandon. Especially when it comes to anger. From passive-aggressive impersonation to atomic outbursts, these chiefs go above and beyond their call of duty to make their moods heard. Here are 12 of the best tirades in recent CEO history.

12. Aaron Wider

Let’s say you actually had to pay someone for the privilege of using the F-bomb. How much would you fork out? $30, or maybe, $100 a pop?

U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno of Philadelphia had his price gun out when Aaron Wider, CEO of mortgage investment company High Tech Financial, was trying to fend off a GMAC lawsuit in a deposition. Wider used expletives an impressive 73 times. His going rate? $401 per utterance, or $29,000 for one day in deposition. (By the way, Wider’s mortgage company, HTFC, won the case. The judge dismissed it months later.)

11. Carol Bartz

Carol Bartz took the helm at Yahoo in January ’09. The former Autodesk chief tends to vocalize what most CEOs keep to themselves. Her first quarter conference call included this gem: “We had a lot of people running around but nobody fucking doing anything!”

And according to Gawker,

At an all-hands meeting, Bartz told the staff that she’d “dropkick to fucking Mars” anyone whose company gossip ended up on the blogs.

Business Insider has more fun Bartz quotes:

On Autodesk competitor Adobe: “What the fuck does Adobe know about engineering drawings?”

On speaking at conferences in the dotcom bubble: “I’d go to investor conferences—with standing room only at presentations by—and I’d get four shareholders listening to me.”

And, finally: “Tell me why I shouldn’t fire the whole lot of you.”

10. Philip Meeson

Image: HS&P

Jet2 chief Meeson, best known for calling French air traffic controllers “lazy frogs” on his website in 2006, visited Manchester airport in ’09 to monitor check-in employees. When he found a 200 foot long line of customers, he went nuclear on his staff.

While passenger’s applauded Meeson’s expletive-laced tirade, employees called the police on their CEO. Meeson quickly calmed down after receiving a warning. He has also promised to implement a “queue-less check-in” this year. Meeson probably wasn’t deterred by the fact that Jet2 landed some good publicity after his explosion.

9. Marc Cuban

Image: Duncan Davidson/Flickr

Self-made billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Marc Cuban has a few bucks to throw around. But even he was surprised when the NBA sent him the largest fine in sports history. Cuban was fined $500,000 for slamming the NBA officiating system and its director, Ed Rush, by saying “I wouldn’t hire him to manage a Dairy Queen. His interest is not in the integrity of the game or improving the officiating.”

As you might imagine, Dairy Queen got a little upset, too. In an act of goodwill, Cuban worked at a DQ for a full day, 6am to 5pm. Incidentally, that little trick win him $1 million in publicity. Even when Cuban loses money, he is making it.

8. Bill Gates

Image: World Economic Forum/Flickr

Bill Gates seems nice and soft-spoken. After all, how can you take offense from a guy with hair that unkempt? But Bill can get on his high horse and yell it out with the best of them.

When a Java programmer tried to steer Microsoft away from bundling IE with Windows, the former Microsoft CEO exploded in front of his whole staff. “Why don’t you just give up your options and join the Peace Corps?” He then directed his rage to everyone else: “Hasn’t anybody here ever heard of Windows? Windows is what this company is about!”

Bill got his way, resulting in myriad international monopoly indictments. Nobody knows whether that Java programmer joined the Peace Corps afterward.

7. John Mackey

Image: Joe Marinaro/Flickr

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, had it out for Wild Oats, a competitor he wanted to take over. Instead of cussing or throwing chairs, Mackey went undercover. Using the fake handle “Rahodeb,” he posted entries extolling Whole Foods stock and degrading Wild Oats on Yahoo Finance forums. They included “bankruptcy remains a distinct possibility” and “the endgame is underway now.” They also included posts like “I like Mackey’s haircut. I think he looks cute!”

The FTC sued to block the merger and eventually lost. That leaves legions of crazy CEOs to blog away. Just remember to keep that moniker anonymous.

6. Randy Michaels

Imagine that your company is going bankrupt. You want to redirect the ship, but your attempts turn out to be terribly misguided. When you fail miserably, what do you do? Implicate the journalist who broke the story of your inanity, of course.

Tribune Company CEO Randy Michaels recently tried to remind his tiny WGN-AM 720 station of his alpha-dog status. He sent out a missive detailing 119 ridiculous words and phrases that reporters and anchors on that station should no longer use. Banned words include “auto accident” and “world class.”

Mr. Michaels later called in WGN staff to clarify his bizarre move, practically slandering the reporter who broke the story in the process. Going forward, everyone will have to wait for the aftermath of this story (That last sentence include three banned words and phrases).

5. Jonathan Ornstein

Image: PhillipC/Flickr

You know the kind of boss who just sets the tone for a really tense day the moment he walks through the door? Well, Mr. Ornstein has a reputation for being that guy. His former assistant tallied the total amount of time her boss was screaming and in a bad mood at about “60%, maybe even higher.” His famous tirades against unions–the Air Line Pilots Association in particular–led to 50 pilots leaving per month between Jan 07-08. Perhaps that moodiness is one reason Mesa filed for bankruptcy in January 2010.

4. Bob Hoffman

The CEO of San Francisco’s Hoffman/Lewis ad agency doesn’t have temper tantrums so much as he lets out a constant stream of drivel on his blog, The Ad Contrarian. When I first peeked at it, I was greeted with “You see, writing this blog is a big pain in the ass.” BNet has some more quotable quotes:

Someone must have dick-slapped the guy who wrote the article I “assigned” because he has since disclaimed his initial mistake.

I was thinking that maybe advertising was the world’s number one bullshit profession.

…the “media elite” in this country are a fucking disgrace.

And if it’s so ifuckingconic, why does it need to be “reinvented?”

You have to admit, he makes some good points.

3. Walt Baker

Image: Lightmatter/Flickr

You would think the CEO of the Tennessee and Greater Nashville Hospitality Association would have some PR tact. So, it was a bit surprising when some of Walt Baker’s associates received an email comparing the first lady, Michelle Obama, to Tarzan’s sidekick, Cheeta–a chimpanzee. He opened his racist joke with the phrase “I don’t care who you are, this is funny” (a Larry the Cable Guy-ism). The day after the email went out, Baker’s side business, Mercatus Communications, lost 100% of their clients. Baker himself is no longer employed.

2. Dov Charney

Image: Dov Charney/Flickr

American Apparel’s CEO, Dov Charney, is no stranger to controversy. His company’s marketing practices, coupled with rumors about his personal hiring practices and allegations of running a sweatshop, have certainly helped him sell some shirts.

In 2008, a female veteran of the company made it official in a tasty little lawsuit. A quick read of the transcript gives countless nuggets of vocal tirades. They culminate in this golden quote: “”I don’t give a fuck about you, your dinner or your fucking life, I have thousands of employees. I don’t need to waste my time on you.” Now, that’s classy!

1. Steve Ballmer

It’s tough to lose good talent. It’s even tougher when they defect to a direct competitor.

When Microsoft’s Mark Lucovsky put in his two weeks’ notice, Mr. Ballmer replied by saying “just tell me it’s not Google.” Lucovsky replied that yes, it was Google.

“At that point, Mr. Ballmer picked up a chair and threw it across the room hitting a table in his office,” said Lucovsky in a later account, adding that Mr. “Ball-of-Joy” then directed his fury at Google CEO Eric Schmidt. “I’m going to fucking bury that guy. I have done it before, and I will do it again. I’m going to fucking kill Google.”

Mr. Lucovsky would later leave Google for VMware. We wonder how Eric Schmidt handled that.

Written by Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.