This Year's 5 Dumbest CEO Quotes

CEOs aren't alone in saying dumb things. Presidential candidates can misjudge the health of the economy and go on to lose the election. Fed chairmen -- past and present -- often say things that they grow to regret. And don't get me started on financial journalists. The number of dumb things that Jim Cramer has said over the years is surpassed only by all the dumb things that I've written.

Thus, as an admitted expert in ill-advised statements, here are my top five picks for the year's biggest CEO gaffes.

1. Sirius XM (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) CEO Mel Karmazin
"The pending merger with XM will offer unprecedented choice for consumers and create tremendous value for stockholders," the satellite radio helmsman said in February, during the company's fourth quarter earnings report.

I guess we're 0 for 2 on that front, even though the corporate combination did finally go through. Instead of "unprecedented choice," the company killed several stations last month as part of the consolidation process. Instead of "tremendous value," stockholders have seen their shares plummet by 96% since Karmazin uttered those words.

2. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) CEO Steve Ballmer
"Let's look at the facts," he said about Google Apps two months ago. "Nobody uses those things."

Let's look at another fact, Ballmer. Your company is also looking to give Microsoft Office its own ad-supported online version. Would you really imitate a product that nobody uses?

Ballmer has a bad habit of underestimating Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) . "Google's not a real company," he allegedly told an employee who was defecting to the search-engine leader four years ago. "It's a house of cards."

Oh, it's a house of cards, all right. It just happens to be full of aces, at a time when Microsoft is going for a flush.

3. Lennar (NYSE: LEN  ) CEO Stuart Miller
"Although the Federal government has recognized that stabilizing the housing market is critical to solving the current credit crisis, the government has yet to act meaningfully to help stabilize home prices," Miller said during the Florida-based homebuilder's quarterly earnings report in September.

Yes, he said exactly what you thought he said. Even though there's clearly more air to be let out of the housing bubble, Miller self-servingly wants the government to step in and seal the bubble so that developers can start huffing and puffing again. Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL  ) CEO Robert Toll went on to say something similar two months later.

I feel your pain, guys, but we have a glut of vacant homes to fill up before we even begin thinking of developing new communities out in the suburbs. We'll get back to you when we're ready. Practice those bubble-blowing skills in the meantime.

4. Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) CEO Jerry Yang
"I have to say that the best thing for Microsoft to do is to buy Yahoo!," he admitted. "We are willing to sell the company."

This would have been a brilliant thing to say back in January, when Microsoft first offered to buy the company at $31 a share. It would have been even more rewarding if Yang had uttered his corporate surrender a few months later, when Microsoft's offer was briefly raised to $33 a share.

But no -- shareowners had to hear Yang say this at a tech summit in November, long after Microsoft had walked away, and with Yahoo!'s stock fetching just a third of Microsoft's highest offer.

5. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) CEO Steve Jobs
"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk, and our DNA will not let us ship that," Jobs said during an October presentation, after rolling out a new line of MacBooks.

That's a noble thing to say, and Apple fans might even suggest that it's a smart one, too. However, have you seen how netbooks are outselling Apple machines in the country's largest online store this holiday season?

Netbooks do carry crummy margins, but that's not the point. It may be noble to stick to healthy margins, but is that prudent if it comes at the expense of incremental profitability that might eat into Apple's own profits?

Other ways to get silly:

 If you have a favorite CEO quote from 2008, the comment box below is waiting for you.

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Yahoo! and Apple are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of dumb and smart business moves. Investors can learn plenty from both. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (23)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2008, at 1:39 PM, DemianBohemian wrote:

    My vote for the 2008 dumbest pump and dump website is The Motley Fool...

    They were pumping XM as a stand alone company at over $30 a share and now they have been bashing the combined company down in the pennies on a daily basis. Thy bash with misleading and false info too. When they finally do fix errors in their articles, they do so after the damage has already been done and they make no note of their correction. A respectable journalist would, but this is a pump and dump site.......

    As far as your statement about SIRI above. It is true that some channels were removed, but many more channels were added to each service at the same time. XM and SIRI subscribers have access to content from each service now - and that is more choice. For instance you can now get NFL football on XM.....

    I am disgusted with your misleading bashing "articles" - one after another - that contain false and misleading statements....

    I guess what do you expect from a pump and dump site?

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2008, at 8:17 PM, wreelp wrote:

    "Pump and Dump Site" I like that! And I couldn't agree more!

  • Report this Comment On December 26, 2008, at 9:15 AM, famousperson wrote:

    Ok, then, why are you even wasting your time reading the articles, if you think they pump and dump?

  • Report this Comment On December 26, 2008, at 12:45 PM, foolrleigh wrote:

    Same thing with Krispy Kreme. Big fans until after the debacle. Check out SCSS as well.....

  • Report this Comment On December 26, 2008, at 1:25 PM, boogaloog wrote:

    Regarding his assessment of Steve Jobs' comment, Munarriz clearly doesn't understand how hard it is to build a reputation for quality, and how easy it is to lose it. People pay more for Apple devices because they know if it's Apple, it works. Why don't people buy Fords? Or GM? Or Chrysler? Because they never know if it's quality or garbage.

    I like Apple's stance -- they build the better mousetrap and will never do less for a quick buck. Odd how Munarriz is pushing for the quick buck on a site that promotes the long-term.

  • Report this Comment On December 26, 2008, at 7:53 PM, dumbanalysts wrote:

    The Apple comment is absurd. This "cheap notebook myth" has been debunked. See http://www.dumbanalysts.com

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