Sound and fury: CEOs say the darndest things

Name That Shakespeare Play!

Name That Shakespeare Play! (Photo credit: Tracy Lee)

CEOs are only human and sometimes make unfortunate statements. Often, these quotes reveal a Shakespearean “tragic flaw” worthy of the bard himself. Here are several statements CEOs have made along with the character flaw that I think is revealed by each. Some names have been kept anonymous to protect the guilty.

“I don’t really read physical books that much anymore. I like to read digitally.”
William Lynch, Barnes & Noble CEO, promoting the Nook at the expense of about 680 brick and mortar bookstores.
TRAGIC FLAW: Heedlessness

“Our product is like crack cocaine.”
Software CEO to a newspaper editor.

“I’d like my life back.”
Tony Hayward, BP CEO during the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
TRAGIC FLAW: Insensitivity

“Would Bill Gates do that? Would Michael Dell do that?”
20-something CEO of an Austin start-up answering “no” when asked to do media training.
TRAGIC FLAW: Arrogance

“At the very core of RIM – at its DNA – is the innovation. We always think ahead. We always think forward. We sometimes think the unthinkable.”
Thorsten Heins, current CEO of beleaguered company RIM.
TRAGIC FLAW: Obliviousness

“Mother pays £200 for being an idiot and failing to comply with her agreement at the time of booking…We think Mrs. McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid.”
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary who said this and other equally insulting comments about passengers who fail to print their boarding passes before they arrive at the airport and are forced to pay Ryanair’s 60-euro fee.
TRAGIC FLAW: Callousness/Unmitigated gall

“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
TRAGIC FLAW: Wishful thinking 

“At the end of day…Nexium is Nexium, Lipitor is Lipitor, drugs are drugs and it shouldn’t matter that much who’s counting to 30…we just don’t see that one pharmacist does it that much better than another pharmacist…”
George Paz, Express Scripts CEO, essentially saying that pharmacists are interchangeable.
TRAGIC FLAW: Thoughtlessness

Do you agree with these characterizations? What are other outrageous CEO quotes that reveal a flaw?

Related article: The 25 Craziest Things Ever Said by Tech CEOs


  1. “we have to act like a startup”

    You can attribute that one to a whole lot of tech industry CEOs getting beaten up by faster, more innovative and less encumbered competitors. But the it’s a wishful thought when, for example, your procurement approval time exceeds the expiration of a bid, or it takes six weeks to approve a new vendor, or provisioning a VM takes two weeks. It’s up there with “working smarter and harder.”

  2. That’s a good one! Often the perception at the top does not meet the reality on the ground unless the CEO is very attuned to how the business works. Thanks for sharing.

  3. “this is all the money I will ever need”

    naivety, ignorance, or both

    • Nice addition! Smacks of insincerity as well. Thanks for sharing.


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