Skip to main content

A closer look at the biggest tech CEO blunders, from Brendan Eich to Mark Zuckerberg

When you're in the spotlight, you're bound to make a mistake. Or two. Tech CEOs are no exception, and have said some things they've either come to regret or at least been compelled to say that they regret.

While wild displays of emotion and scandals can get people talking and do their own sort of damage, gaffes can be harder to recover from – especially in a 24-hour news cycle. Some comments are lobbed straight at the user base of a company and can undermine customer trust.

It takes a charismatic leader to recover from saying something that not just they but an entire company might regret. Fortunately tech CEOs at the top-tier often possess this quality.

Steve Jobs got away with Antennagate and Mark Zuckerberg has ducked under his hoodie and away from controversy several times. But the latest CEO to feel the heat was doing so before he'd even been in the job for a week: Mozilla's Brendan Eich. This article highlights five major tech CEO blunders that have given investors (and PR departments) a major headache, starting with the man of the moment himself...

Brendan Eich

Eich let his wallet do the talking in 2008, when he contributed $1,000 (£600) to support California's Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage. As a result, the LBGT community did not take too kindly to Eich's appointment as CEO of Mozilla, a firm that prides itself on openness and innovation.

In response, Eich did not specifically address his beliefs regarding gay marriage, but he expressed "sorrow" for any hurt the donation caused and stressed that the company itself is dedicated to equality for its employees.

Mark Zuckerberg

The Social Network made us all familiar with Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg's youthful foibles. But Business Insider made us privy to how he conducted business in the early days. When he was racing to complete his social network ahead of the Winklevoss twins, he and a friend exchanged IMs:

Friend: so have you decided what you are going to do about the websites?

Zuck: yea i'm going to f**k them

Zuck: probably in the year

Zuck: *ear

And when there were concerns about privacy in the early days of Facebook:

Zuck: yea so if you ever need info about anyone at harvard

Zuck: just ask

Zuck: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns

Friend: what!? how'd you manage that one?

Zuck: people just submitted it

Zuck: i don't know why

Zuck: they "trust me"

Zuck: dumb f**ks

Eric Schmidt

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has said a thing or two that he might regret. When he was CEO of Google, he had no qualms about declaring: "We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about." But he's also encouraged people who aren't thrilled about Street View to "just move," suggested that people might want to change their names at the age of 18 to avoid a sketchy Internet past, and said that he's "pretty sure" your data is safe with Google.

Steve Jobs

The customer is always right, right? Not if you're, say, holding your phone wrong. At least that was the case Steve Jobs made when he famously had his Marie Antoinette moment over the iPhone 4 after customers were plagued with reception issues.

Carol Bartz

For all the talk about Marissa Mayer as a female CEO, you might think she's Yahoo's first. That's because they might want to forget about Carol Bartz. Whether accusing Yahoo employees of not "f**king doing anything," ditching duties as a keynote speaker at CES, or telling Michael Arrington, then of TechCrunch, to f**k off at TechCrunch Disrupt, Bartz was more than a bit of an embarrassment.