The Tech Industry's Biggest Bozos of 2011
Suppose you knocked a cool $32 billion off the value of your company, trashed its long-term strategy, and thoroughly confused your customers, employees, and shareholders. Most of us would be taken out and shot, but ex-HP CEO Léo Apotheker, who practically destroyed one of Silicon Valley's oldest companies (after doing the same to SAP), walked away with more than $7.2 million in severance and benefits. What a bozo!
But Apotheker was hardly the only tech bozo to (dis)grace 2011. Indeed, the past year was the Year of the Bozo, with CEOs, pundits, and bloggers sharing the honors.
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We all know that Canadians are nicer than we are, but niceness alone doesn't cut it. The RIM twins, co-CEOs Jim Balsillie Mike Lazaridis, spent the year foundering and failing as one thing after another went wrong, from outages to product stumbles.
The twins have given us a lesson in how to take a great brand -- BlackBerry, a product that everyone in government from Barack Obama on down and in business once used -- and turn it and the company that invented it into a zombie. The worst moment of the year came back in October when a series of outages freaked out users across the globe. And how pathetic was the apology issued by Lazardis, who said the company was "not even close" to keeping its commitments to users?
Nearly as pathetic was the PlayBook tablet, the product that was supposed to Research in Motion back in the game. As my colleague Galen Gruman put it: "The BlackBerry-tethered tablet can't do very much, and its tethering requirement means few users can actually use it." Ouch.
World's most obnoxious tech journalists
I'm not a media critic. But the antics of one Michael Arrington were so egregious, so offensive, so utterly outrageous that he has to be included in any list of bozos in the world of technology. You might remember that Arrington founded TechCrunch, which gained a good deal of influence as it scored scoops and delivered news of Silicon Valley startups.
The success went to Arrington's head, and by all accounts he became a bully, threatening to blacklist little companies that didn't give him their news first and exclusively. Bad as that was, Arrington scored a 10-plus on the Bozo Meter when he insisted that he would continue to invest in stocks that he and his colleagues were covering.
I'll never confuse a career in tech journalism with that of the priesthood, but we do have our vows, and there's a big one: Thou shalt not have undisclosed conflicts of interest. When Arrington was called on the issue by his new boss (AOL purchased TechCrunch for megabucks), he had a hissy fit and left. Good riddance.
Our next bozo isn't a single person, but the yammering collection of pundits, journalists, and "analysts" who insisted against all precedent and serious evidence that the iPhone 5 would launch this year. We at InfoWorld make our own mistakes, and we're far from perfect, but if you read the Mobile Edge blog, you would have known that Apple wasn't going to break precedent by skipping an interim upgrade, what turned out to be the iPhone 4S. Those blogosphere bozos spend their time reading obscure tea leaves out of the Asian supply chain -- some clearly making it up, complete with Photoshopped images -- and pandering to the voracious appetite of Apple fanboys for any scrap of "news," no matter who thin or how unlikely.
Netflix makes the list, and Zuckerberg returns
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings doesn't run an IT company in the traditional sense, but so many of us use his company's services and technologies that its jaw-dropping performance this year simply begs to be included. While trying to keep up with the move from DVDs to streaming video, Hastings stumbled and stumbled again by raising prices, then apologizing. Then he split off the part of the company that supplies rental DVDs and renamed it Qwikster, then changed his mind, and yes, apologized yet again.
It's hard to imagine how anyone could destroy the brand equity of a company like Netflix. You'd have to hunt hard to find anyone in this country who didn't know the name, yet Hastings wanted to change it? To Qwikster? The flood of customers cramming the exits was no surprise. What is surprising is that this bozo still has a job.
Speaking of apologies, I had hoped that Facebook CEO Mark "Boy Billionaire" Zuckerberg wouldn't have to apologize yet again this year, but of course he did. As Saul Hansell of the New York Times put it so well, "Mark Zuckerberg has produced a symphony of contrition in a blog post."
There's nothing wrong with an apology, of course, but there is something really wrong with repeating the same bad behavior over and over, then apologizing for it over and over. He's the Boy Billionaire Who Cried Sorry. At this point, if we believed that Facebook wasn't going to trash our privacy for the sake of profits and deals with even less responsible third-party apps makers, we'd be the bozos. But we don't.
Best wishes for a happy and bozo-free New Year!
This article, "The tech industry's biggest bozos of 2011," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.