I Love CEO Confessions

Some CEOs can have a laugh at themselves.

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Motley Fool Staff
Feb 12, 2007 at 12:00AM

I have a special place in my heart for CEOs who can admit their mistakes. I disagree with the Donald Trump "toot your own horn" school of leadership. I'm bearish on braggadocio. And I'm bullish on old-fashioned humility.

As the producer of The Motley Fool Radio Show, I've heard a number of CEOs fess up to their failures -- business decisions that didn't ultimately make for great business. Here are some quotes from a few of my favorites:

Jim Keyes, 7-Eleven convenience stores
"We packaged a more convenient pantyhose for ladies and it has helped us to bring more female shoppers into the store, but we were a little bit out there when we introduced fishnet hose at 7-Eleven Stores. I would say that was one of the dumber decisions."

David Liu, The Knot (NASDAQ:KNOT)
"I could probably fill a whole hour's show with those stories. The one that comes to mind is probably in the early days. I think this is because you have four partners who were ex-NYU filmmakers and had gone to film school; we were frustrated and wanted to create entertainment products as well. We thought our brides would be interested in being entertained on our site while they were planning their wedding, so we created a serial soap opera that we featured on a weekly basis, had it written and casted and put it together as an interactive soap opera. It took a tremendous amount of effort. The script is today just as funny as it was back then. But nobody came and actually watched it at the site, and certainly we couldn't find sponsors to support it either."

Dick Kinzel, Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN) amusement parks
"We put a $4 million building around this dog ride and named it 'Disaster Transport.' I still remember on opening day a gentleman walked out of the ride and came over to me and said, 'You named that one right -- that's a disaster.' And you know what, he was right. That was by far the dumbest thing I ever did."

Bob Davies, Arm & Hammer maker Church & Dwight (NYSE:CHD)
"In the middle '70s, we went zooming into the personal deodorant and antiperspirant business with an aerosolized can of baking soda. We had two huge problems. Many of the cans clogged, and those that didn't clog did worse -- they massively stung people's underarms. We lost around $6 million in that venture and that was back when we were a tiny little company. I almost lost my job."

Jack Soden, Elvis Enterprises, the business entity created by the estate of Elvis Presley
"We licensed a company that made bedroom slippers. They were big, furry slippers and they had this rubber image of Elvis' head on the toes. It was one of those things that when you saw them in the store, it was like, 'What were we thinking?' We pulled the license and got them off the market as fast as we could."

Dave and Buster, co-founders of Dave and Buster's
Dave Corriveau:
"I can think back years ago when we did our first store outside of Dallas, our third store. It was a brand-new building in Houston, a great location, but it only had 400 parking spaces. We opened up and we learned a lot about the tow-truck business. We learned a lot about the valet business and how to bus your customers in from down the street because we didn't have enough parking. That was a lesson learned, and now, of course, we have lots of parking, because 400 parking spaces were not even close to being enough."

Buster Corley: "Having had the opportunity to be in the marketplace for a long period of time, we have come to find out that a goodly portion of becoming successful and figuring out how to stay successful is figuring out what not to do. We have probably made -- we have made a lot of mistakes or dumb decisions in our careers, but have learned from that and had the opportunity to apply it and not have to re-learn the same mistakes."

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Mac Greer owns shares of Costco. The Knot is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Cedar Fair is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. 7-Eleven is a former Stock Advisor selection. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy knows the virtue of humility.