Oh No They Didn't! Top 10 CEO Snafus of 2011

They can make in a month what the average worker earns in a lifetime. They go about in private jets, employing multiple secretaries and glad-handing dignitaries from the world over.

Perched at the top of the corporate ladder, the chief executive officer blazes trails, inspires awe and commands attention. But under such immense scrutiny, when the CEO slips, the rest of the world takes notice.

For those wishing to learn from the follies of some of the highest-paid people in society -- or squirm with schadenfreude -- the International Business Times has compiled a list of the top 10 most notorious CEO mistakes of the year.

10. Google - CEO says company "screwed up" social media strategy


Source: Reuters

In June, then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt told an audience at an industry conference that, under his leadership, the company had made a substantial strategic blunder in not partnering with Facebook during the social network's early rise.

"I clearly knew that I had to do something, and I failed to do it, a CEO should take responsibility. I screwed up," Schmidt reportedly said at the AllThingsD conference. Schmidt specifically noted how his company had missed out on opportunities to form a search partnership with Facebook, a chance that was later snapped up by rival Microsoft's Bing search engine

Unfortunately for Google, currently under the leadership of CEO Larry Page, there's been a lot of apologizing for its social media strategy since then. After rolling out a disastrous Google Wave experiment, the company went full steam ahead with Google+.

The platform was panned by critics, including a company software engineer who penned a lengthy -- and inadvertently public diatribe -- declaring "Google+ is a knee-jerk reaction."

Shares of Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) are up 7.79 percent for the year.

9. AOL - Battle of the acquired company CEOs claims TechCrunch as a casualty


Source: Reuters

After his wildly popular blog TechCrunch was acquired by AOL, founder Michael Arrington apparently had a lot of time and money in his hands. While still working as the blog's CEO, Arrington began the process of starting a venture capital fund that would invest in the companies the blog wrote about.

When the plan was announced in September, it rubbed another executive at AOL -- Arrington's boss Ariana Huffington -- the wrong way. After what must have been an epic conference call and much public sniping, Arrington left AOL, seemingly conceding to Huffington.

But her victory was Pyrrhic at best. After Arrington left, AOL announced it would be a major funder of Arrington's fund. More importantly, Huffington has seen TechCrunch sans Arrington bleed out some of its key people: Heather Harde, Arrington's replacement, left in mid-December.

And the public bad-mouthing has not ended. Just last week, Arrington painted Huffington as petty and jealous in a Business Insider interview that carried a picture of him giving the middle finger.

Shares of AOL Inc. (NYSE:AOL) are down 34.8 percent for the year.

8. Comcast - CEO neglects to inform SEC of stock purchases... for the third time


Source: Reuters

Earlier this month, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was fined $500,000 by the Federal Trade Commission to settle a violation of securities law under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, after the agency said Roberts failed to report insider purchases of the company's stock.

It was the third time Roberts had violated the act, filing corrective documents with the SEC after executing the purchases.

The government did not claim blatant wrongdoing, noting in the press release announcing the settlement that  "the violation was inadvertent and technical; that it was apparently due to faulty advice from outside counsel; that Roberts did not gain financially from the violation; and that he reported the violation promptly once it was discovered."

Still, some observers wondered how the CEO of a Fortune 500 company could commit such a mistake repeatedly in spite of the army of lawyers on retainer.

Shares of Comcast  (NASDAQ:CMCSA) are up 8.33 percent for the year.

7. Bank of America - CEO defends new retail fee as bank's "right to make a profit"


Source: Reuters

Coming just as protests against economic inequality and bank bailouts were going global, Bank of America's move earlier this year to impose a $5 monthly fee on debit-card accountholders -- and blame the government for it -- was perhaps the most tin-eared corporate decision of the year.

Just as insensitive to the public sentiment was the bank CEO's reaction. After the fee decision was seemingly criticized by every pundit with a bully pulpit, all the way to  President Barack Obama, CEO Brian Moynihan publicly stated customers and shareholders understood the decision because the bank had a "right to make a profit."

The bank eventually ended rescinding the new fee.

Shares of Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) are down 60.08 percent for the year.

6. Yahoo! - Fired CEO insults former co-workers, burns her golden parachute


Source: Reuters

With the ink not yet dry on the legal papers informing her she was getting the ax, former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz had a phone interview for the ages with Fortune, in which, among other things, she explained how she had avoided being served the termination papers by shuffling between various New York hotels.

More remarkable, she told Fortune the Yahoo board "f----d me over" and was composed by a bunch of "doofuses." While talking badly about your last employer is never in good style, it was an explicit legal matter for Bartz, who had signed a non-disparagement clause in her contract with Yahoo.

As a result, Bartz's end-of-employment payout, which exceeded $10 million, was put in jeopardy. It is not clear if Yahoo indeed held back on paying her following the comments.

Shares of Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) are down 3.25 percent for the year.

5. Renault - CEO fires three in industrial espionage episode, later backtracks


Source: Reuters

In January, Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn shocked the automotive world with the electrifying announcement that three senior managers at the company had been caught spying for a Chinese company, and would be fired.

Ghosn's assertions brushed off the claims of innocence on the part of the fired employees, stating he had solid evidence, and had personally been involved in the investigation. The incident also riled the French political establishment, especially after the French industry minister labeled the action "economic warfare" by China.

Weeks later, the CEO had to backtrack, after it was revealed the allegations came mostly from a single discredited source. Besides paying the employees reparations, Ghosn gave up his bonus. Yet even that act of self sacrifice did not stop the corporate ship from listing: following intense pressure by red-faced French politicians, the company's COO was thrown overboard, forced to resign as a coda to the scandal.

Shares of Renault SA (Paris:RNO) are down 38.33 percent for the year.

4. Egan Jones - chief explains controversial research note did not include all pertinent information because he ran out of space in the page


Source: Reuters

In mid-November, Egan Jones, a small credit rating agency that prides itself on the fact its business model is free of the conflict-of-interest dilemmas plaguing its larger competitors, issued a scalding research note questioning the practices at mid-size investment bank Jefferies.

The note particularly focused on Jefferies' exposure to European sovereign debt, something that had helped sink mid-size broker-dealer MF Global. For about a day, the company basked in the glory of the Wall Street underdog, presenting itself as the plucky no-nonsense rating agency that was sounding the early warning bell on a big deal its larger competitors had totally missed. But criticism of the research note was swift and furious.

The culmination of a series of unfortunate events for the company's credibility came when Sean Egan, president of the company, admitted on CNBC that information which would have made the note less harsh was intentionally left out. As Egan explained on national television, he had "space constraints" and had to edit those facts out. As Egan spoke, shares of Jefferies, which had been battered in days prior, went ballistic.

3. News Corp - CEO has to apologize for hacking scandal after saying it wasn't his fault


Source: Reuters

In mid-July, the media world was transfixed by the developing story of the News of the World phone hacking scandal. As part of a wider investigation into questionable tabloid newspaper practices, police in the United Kingdom found staff at the newspaper routinely hacked into people's voicemail to obtain otherwise private information.

A particularly torrid case involved journalists deleting messages from the voicemail of a murdered child's cell phone, which led police investigators and family members to believe the child was still alive.

On July 14, media magnate and News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch testified before the British Parliament, basically making the argument that, since News of The World was such a tiny portion of his media empire, he should not be held responsible for its actions under him.

Yet a day later he met with the family of the murdered child. He also published two full-page apology letters in the major British newspapers, noting "serious wrongdoing" at his company.

Shares of News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS) are up 11.2 percent for the year.

2. Netflix- CEO promotes strategic move as future of company model, is forced to backtrack after disastrous roll-out


Source: Reuters

Its seems almost impossible to find a person with an Internet connection who hasn't heard about the Netflix debacle.

In August, the company infuriated customers by announcing it was splitting its streaming video service from its DVD-by-mail rental business, jacking up prices for people who wanted to keep both subscriptions. The backlash was so astonishing the company quickly discarded the idea.

But the damage was done. Netflix lost over 800,000 subscribers in the three months after the announcement was made and the company's stock was decimated, going down more than 75% from yearly highs. While CEO Reed Hastings has apologized for the move, he does seem to have doubled down on the company, noting in a recent speech Netflix will be a trailblazing leader in streaming video "as long as we don't shoot ourselves in the foot."

Shares of Netflix  (NASDAQ:NFLX) are down 59.82 percent for the year.

1. MF Global - CEO says he didn't know money was taken from customer accounts, regulator says otherwise


Source: Reuters

Nearly every CEO blunder can have career-killing consequences. However, the one blunder that deserves top ranking on this list has the potential to land the offender in jail.

Cue Jon Corzine, former CEO of collapsed broker-dealer MF Global.

After his company's spectacular implosion, there were many questions stakeholders wanted to ask Corzine. Chief among them: what happened to the clients' money, some of which disappeared from ostensibly untouchable segregated accounts?

In Congressional testimony, Corzine said he did not know where the missing money had gone and was surprised to learn of the shortfall just before MF Global filed for bankruptcy.

A day later, however, Terrence Duffy, chief executive of the CME Group, the exchange operator that regulated MF Global and provided an exchange platform for dealers, said he had been told Corzine knew customer funds were being used as collateral for a last-minute loan.

"A CME auditor also participated in a phone call with senior MF Global employees, wherein one employee indicated that Mr. Corzine knew about the loans that it had made for the customer -- from the customer segregated accounts," Duffy told Congress, later adding  "We were told by MF Global that they transferred money to the broker dealer, 'stop looking for the accounting error.'"

It is not clear whether that statement will doom Corzine.

Shares of MF Global Holdings (over-the-counter:MFGLQ) are down over 99 percent for the year and will likely be worthless after the company settles its bankruptcy case.

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