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It’s easy to idolize certain CEOs and admire their drive to innovate. But some have gone way off course.
A CEO is constantly under immense stress and pressure to adjust to society’s demands, eliminate competitors and generate massive profits. The best CEOs demonstrate strong values from the start, allowing for consistent leadership, dynamism and long-term growth. However, not all CEOs can manage the countless hours, criticism and ethical issues with grace.
Behind some of the world’s most famous companies, you’ll often find a dark side to their CEOs. Corner-cutting, a toxic work culture and arrogance can lead to a lack of transparency and a blatant disregard for regulatory procedures, the consequences of which can be costly. Some well-known leaders have managed to survive their scandals, while others have found their careers in tatters.
The dark sides of popular CEOs
These once-revered CEOs enjoyed immense popularity and success – until they didn’t. See how they fell off their pedestals and which ones survived the rough landings.
1. Larry Page
From Google Ads to Google Pay, Google’s services have become indispensable to businesses and consumers alike. Google and its parent company, Alphabet, are determined to move beyond search engines and find their way into every facet of our lives. There’s no doubt that Larry Page – who co-founded Google, was its CEO for years, and then served as CEO of Alphabet until 2019 – deserves a lot of the credit. But at what cost?
Though Google is often praised as one of the most employee-friendly businesses in the industry, it’s hard to fight your own nature. Those who have worked closely with Page have described him as very withdrawn, often to the point of rudeness. During important meetings, it’s said he would disengage and refuse to pay attention to those around him. Some describe him as “kind of a jerk” and “an egomaniacal asshole.”
While Page was respected among his subordinates, many felt he’d prefer as little human contact as possible. Today, he remains on Alphabet’s board of directors and is a member of its executive committee. That suggests he still retains a fair amount of power, even if his personality isn’t as fun as a Google Doodle.
2. Lloyd Blankfein
When it comes to being respected and popular with the “troops,” for a long time it was hard to beat Lloyd Blankfein, who has been the senior chairman of Goldman Sachs since 2019 and previously served as CEO, COO, and president. At one point in his tenure, he had a 97% approval rating. That says something about his leadership style.
How can a man so beloved by his underlings have a dark side? Well, in 2010, Goldman Sachs was officially charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for fraud in the structuring and marketing of collateralized debt obligations tied to subprime mortgages. The company, with Blankfein at the helm, was illegally making money off the recession. Yet, when Congress officially interviewed the executive about his company’s actions, Blankfein claimed (under oath) that his company had never intentionally shorted mortgage-backed securities to increase profits.
The following year, a U.S. Senate panel announced that Blankfein and Goldman Sachs misled both Congress and its clients. Sen. Carl Levin even wanted the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and SEC to investigate the company for possible charges, including perjury claims against Blankfein. Ultimately, no charges were ever filed, but there’s no doubt Blankfein’s shiny veneer was cracked. His reputation further took a hit when a departing executive ripped him in a 2012 New York Times op-ed.
More recently, in the spring of 2022, Goldman Sachs reached a $79.5 million settlement with shareholders over claims of poor oversight tied to the controversial 1Malaysia Development Berhad wealth fund, which was tied up in a money-laundering scandal. Blankfein was specifically named by shareholders in the complaint, which was related to the DOJ’s 2020 foreign bribery charges against Goldman Sachs and the company’s $2.9 billion settlement. Blankfein has weathered several other scandals during his reign, which makes you wonder whether his image can ever be fully tarnished.
3. Carly Fiorina
Unhappy and disengaged employees usually aren’t the most productive workers. And where there’s a disgruntled employee, you can bet there’s a crappy boss not far off. Such was the case with Carly Fiorina.
Fiorina was brought on as CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 1999, becoming the first female head of a Fortune 100 company in the process. For a while, it seemed she would be a good fit. In actuality, her tenure was plagued with problems from day one, and they just seemed to stack up as time went on. For example, she exploited loopholes in export sanctions by using foreign subsidiaries to sell millions of dollars worth of computer equipment to Iran, a controversy that came back to haunt her during her bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination