At the end of every year, I like to go through the exercise of coming up with my own top five list of the worst CEOs. It’s not scientific, but I do tend to consistently ask three questions: Did the CEO’s company suffer a precipitous drop in performance, as indicated by its stock price, cash position, market share or other key financial metrics? Was the CEO culpable, in that he or she knew what was going wrong yet was unable to right the ship? And finally, did the CEO’s actions, or inactions, provide evidence of a significant breach in corporate governance or strategic leadership?
With that in mind, and with an eye toward what we can learn from their failures, here are my nominations for the five worst business leaders of the year.
5. Rodrigo Rato of Bankia
I’ll start with Rodrigo Rato, the former chairman of Spanish financial giant Bankia. The ongoing banking crisis in Spain precipitated many changes, one of the most important being the formation of Bankia from a merger of seven struggling Spanish banks. Rato, a former managing director of the IMF and finance minister in Spain, was tapped to lead the new bank. His tenure lasted two years, but not before greatly damaging his previously positive reputation.
What happened? While putting together the new bank’s IPO, Rato sold the stock to thousands of small investors. They ended up with deep losses when the government was forced to bail out Bankia after the bank’s auditor, Deloitte, refused to sign off on the bank’s books. An initially reported annual profit of 300 million euros became a loss of nearly 3 billion euros after Rato’s resignation. As someone who should have known the real financial picture at Bankia, Rato is starting to look to me almost like former Enron CEO Ken Lay, who touted his company’s stock all while the company was deteriorating. Rato is currently under investigation for fraud.
4. Mark Pincus of Zynga
The fourth worst CEO on my list is Mark Pincus of Zynga, the maker of games like Farmville that were ubiquitous on Facebook for a while. But the year 2012 was a disastrous one for Pincus. His company’s shares are down about 70 percent this year, there has been a big exodus of top executive talent, and Pincus spearheaded a pricey $180 million acquisition that forced a writedown of 50 percent of the purchase price within months. Zynga has relied almost entirely on Facebook for distribution of its games, the type of dependence no future-minded CEO would want. The recent announcement that both companies have freed themselves to create new partnerships highlights the vulnerability of this strategy. Finally, Pincus sidestepped lockout provisions to unload millions of shares, a controversial move but perhaps a sign of what he thought about the company’s prospects.