Has 2007 become the year of the big apology? CEOs may carry some of the most massive egos imaginable, and humility may not be one of their strong suits, but several high-profile corporate leaders have had to eat a little crow this year. Apple's
Maybe the recent spate of apologies is just a fluke. On the other hand, perhaps it's good for investors to realize that no one, and no company, is perfect.
I'm sorry ... so sorry
You've probably heard how Apple basically implied that it overcharged iPhone early adopters, since it cut the price on the high-end phone by one-third, a mere two months after its launch. So much for the allure of camping out to get the hot device first -- a mere two months of first-mover glow hardly makes the hoopla, effort, or expense seem worth it. That's why Steve Jobs apologized, issuing $100 store credits to early iPhone buyers in an attempt to soothe their ire.
Whole Foods Market's
Mistakes were made
Of course, saying "I'm sorry" carries a pesky implication that one has done something wrong. That's probably tough to admit for the large-egoed among us, and of course, admitting to mistakes may also require the acceptance of consequences. (Go figure!)
JetBlue's Neeleman is no longer CEO of the company since last winter's debacle, although he's still involved in strategic planning. Whole Foods' board of directors has launched an investigation into Mackey's past online secret identity, and some angry types called for his expulsion when the truth behind "Rahodeb" was first exposed. Jobs doesn't face any corporate censure, but given some Apple fans' burning anger, I'd imagine he felt a little uncomfortably hot under that black turtleneck collar, since he's more accustomed to adulation than outrage.
It's not entirely our CEOs' fault if apologizing is hard for them. Our society loves celebrity, and CEOs have become the latest public figures to sport images that are larger than life. (Not unlike their pay packages, come to think of it.) That can't exactly promote modesty, especially for folks whose egos were probably large to begin with.
All the same, CEOs of public companies are ultimately employees -- key employees, grant you, but flesh-and-blood people nonetheless. They're expected to take a great deal of serious responsibility for the companies they run, for good or for ill.
Shareholders should expect their CEOs to take credit for mistakes as readily as achievements. Admitting that problems exist is the first step toward fixing them; trying to ignore those problems is a recipe for disaster. Stepping up to apologize if a problem arises, and taking swift steps to fix it, displays admirable integrity. On the flip side, bluster, b.s., and bull-headed egotism are key components to a big, fat Achilles heel.
There's nothing sorry about being sorry
Trust is a crucial part of any company's brand integrity, especially for firms seeking to form deep emotional connections with customers. Pride goes before the fall, and disappointing, bullying, or hoodwinking customers will only hasten that fall.
Sure, you can argue that "I'm sorry" can just as often mean "... that I got caught," rather than "... that I did it in the first place." All the same, humble and introspective Fools know that mistakes are some of the most effective ways to learn important lessons, and I'd like to think that even the biggest CEOs are still capable of such reflection. I can't say whether any of the CEOs I mentioned above really meant it when they apologized. But the simple act of saying "I'm sorry" was a better reaction than trying to bluster or deny their way past their respective blunders.
If you never have to say you're sorry, either you never make mistakes, or you're never willing to take responsibility. Since we hold CEOs accountable for our companies' futures -- that's why they make the big bucks, right? -- shareholders should be glad to see that maybe, just maybe, those leaders are starting to accept the occasional dose of humility.
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