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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.
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:
- 5 Alan Greenspan Quotes That Make You Wonder
- Last Week's 5 Dumbest Stock Moves
- The Stocks You'll Wish You'd Bought
If you have a favorite CEO quote from 2008, the comment box below is waiting for you.