There was no shortage of rocky economic terrain in 2011, with a shrinking global growth rate and weak consumer confidence biting into or at least threatening the bottom line of many companies. The turbulence allowed some CEOs to exhibit their strength and demonstrate their ability to operate with finesse even during trying times. Other executives; however, found themselves falling from grace either as a result of unchecked ambition, a headstrong attitude or a lack of understanding of their demographic. Below, we round up the four naughtiest executives of 2011.
1. Reed Hastings, Netflix (NFLX)
All an investor has to do to determine why the formerly lauded Netflix CEO has found himself on the tippy top of the naughty list is refer to the company’s plunging share price. Netflix has fallen from a peak of over $304 to $66 in an extremely short period of time, much of that due to the business blunders of Hastings. Hastings has endured a fall from grace more dramatic than any other CEO in recent history this year. Had this list been constructed six months ago, Hastings may have topped the nice list, but the poisonous impact his decisions have had on share prices and customer sentiment cement Hastings as the year’s worst CEO.
Hasting’s confidence in the unassailability of Netflix may have been what prompted him to announce a hike in subscription rates. Hastings soon realized the error of his previous assumption amid a customer outcry that led thousands of subscribers to end their memberships. A second announcement that the company had intentions to divide the DVD-by-mail and digital businesses further heightened discontent and caused share prices to hemorrhage.
Netflix will end the year roughly 200,000 subscribers lighter than expected after an initial 1 million customer reduction in September. The numbers, both in terms of subscriber loss and share price can be seen as a direct consequence of Hasting’s overconfidence and misinterpretation of the strengths and weakness of his own business.
2. Andrew Mason, Groupon (GRPN)
When a company has a massive user base, charges a premium and is considered worth $5 billion by Google (GOOG) executives considering an acquisition, a failure to become profitable seems nearly inexplicable. That,however, is exactly what is happening at the recently public Groupon. Over expansion, excessive managerial turnover and backwards accounting policies were among the top short comings listed when Groupon was going public during November. Major bonuses taken by the likes of the company’s CEO Andrew Mason were highlights as part of the cause behind the company’s failure to turn a profit.
Mason was initially celebrated for his smart ideas and his sense of humor but once regulators piped up about the accounting liabilities it became evident that Groupon may not be under the expert control it was once assumed. Add new competitors arriving every day and complaints from participating companies that Groupons fails to earn new, long term customers, and there are many reasons why initially eager investors are turning sour. The company is down 30 percent since its IPO and could continue to tumble if it doesn’t exhibit the capacity to be more transparent and find a way to make a profit off a solid business model.
Perhaps more than anything Mason’s greatest failure as CEO was resisting the multi-billion dollar offer presented by Google. With a concept so good it’s been imitated hundreds of time, the improved management Google could have offered may have set Groupon on a different path.
3. Carol Bartz, Yahoo (YHOO)
While Bartz may not be qualified for this list as she’s no longer Yahoo’s CEO, her continued flubbing of the company’s long-term turnaround and the enormous false expectations she set up cement her status among the worst CEOs. Bartz continued to tout Yahoo as a non-search engine, trying to spin its image to become a premier digital media company. Bartz, however, aside from reducing costs at the company, did very little to take Yahoo in a new direction under her tenure. If anything, Bartz succeeded in distracting from the strengths of the company, namely its search and financial divisions, in order to move the company in a new direction that never quite took shape.
4. Mike Lazaridis, Reserach In Motion (RIMM)
Research in Motion, like Netflix has been on a freefall in 2011 in terms of its share price. Blackberry, the primary product created by RIMM, was once among the top phone makers but under the guidance of Lazaridis the company has failed to evolve at the pace necessary to compete with heir competitors Apple and Google. The losses of market share has caused RIMM to lose more than 70 percent of its share price this year. Its PlayBook and several delays incurred beneath Lazaridis’s leadership only exacerbated an already bad situation.