An open question: How much of a jerk does a CEO have to be in their personal life before customers and partners revolt and the company either evolves or slowly fades out of existence?
In case you haven't seen the video (full glory here), GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons recently went on a hunting trip to Zimbabwe where he shot and killed an elephant. In his defense, the beast was apparently a "problem elephant" which had been damaging crops in a deeply impoverished area. Indeed, the poor villages did get something to eat out of it in the end.
I have nothing against hunting, per se. Even the sanctioned culling of elephants in certain areas is an appropriate wildlife management practice. But prancing around like Hemingway blasting away at endangered species, directly supporting the Mugabe regime with hunting fees and filming desperate people carving up an Elephant to the tune of AC/DC's "Hells Bells" (music since removed) just kinda rubs me the wrong way.
Evidently, I'm not alone. Already ticked off by GoDaddy's adolescent TV advertisements, thousands of commenters on media sites far and wide have pledged to stop doing business with the company and apparently it's working. Patch.com offers a great analysis of the extent to which GoDaddy's brand is imploding and how Parsons remains (apparently) clueless and stubborn.
But how far will it go? Will Parsons change? WIll GoDaddy's board of directors take some kind of action? Or will the brand take a hit and somehow keep on trucking?
After all, American Apparel is still in business, despite the well publicized antics of CEO Dov Charney. Monster Cable CEO Noel Lee is still rolling along despite his paranoid trademark lawsuits illustrated to great comic effect by Engaget. The media stunts pulled by RyanAir CEO Michael O'Leary earn mountains of criticism, but the company only grows and grows. Even the infamous private jet excursions to Washington by Detroit's finest CEOs did little to change the companies' behaviors.
Before I throw in the towel, however, the optimist in me would like to suggest such tales are the exception rather than the rule. Furthermore, although it might not drive a company out of business, there's no question that it usually impacts the bottom line (see evidence of lost customers). At the end of the day, if price is equal, people will vote with their dollars if they have heard bad things about how a company is run - even though it may take a a crowd of peers as well as repeated news coverage before it sinks in.
Most importantly, tales like these open the door to new business from companies run in a more ethical manner. Competitors to GoDaddy have already popped up to remind people they offer very similar services, without the bloodshed and bikini girls. (See Cloris Leachman's Twitter promotion for Network Solutions).
Will GoDaddy be Gone Daddy? Or is any publicity good publicity? I'd love to hear what you think, especially if you have more concrete examples of CEO shenanigans sinking a company, or not.
Nick Aster is the founder of TriplePundit.
TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place. It was acquired in 2017 by 3BLMedia, the leading news distribution and content marketing company focused on niche topics including sustainability, health, energy, education, philanthropy, community and other social and environmental topics.
Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He also worked for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.
Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.