The Biggest CEO Apologies

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1. Toyota
> CEO: Akio Toyoda
> Year: 2010
> Incident: “Unintended acceleration” deaths and recall

In 2010, Toyota recalled 8.1 million vehicles after a series of incidents and accidents related to unintended acceleration had caused as many as 89 deaths. After one such incident, in which a family of four were killed when their Lexus crashed through an intersection, CEO Akio Toyoda issued a formal apology. “Four precious lives have been lost. I offer my deepest condolences,” Toyoda said. “Customers bought our cars because they thought they were the safest. But now we have given them cause for grave concern. I can’t begin to express my remorse.” Toyota’s sales problems continue to this day, exacerbated to some extent by the Japan earthquake in March. General Motors (NYSE: GM) recently passed Toyota as the number one car company in the world.

2. Bridgestone/Firestone
> CEO: Yoichiro Kaizaki
> Year: 2000
> Incident: Tread separation leading to Ford rollovers

In the mid to late 1990s, a series of rollovers in Ford (NYSE: F) vehicles was caused by apparent tire tread separation in a particular make of Firestone tires. After a government inquiry, Bridgestone/Firestone was required to issue a voluntary recall on 6.5 million tires. After the issue became public, the tire company’s CEO, Yoichiro Kaizaki, issued a lackluster formal apology, stating “I apologize to all shareholders for making you worried.” This recall cost the company an estimated $350 million, and Kaizaki resigned in January, 2001.

3. BP
> CEO: Tony Hayward
> Year: 2010
> Incident: Gulf oil spill

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, caught fire, and sank off the coast of Louisiana, releasing millions of gallons of oil from BP’s (NYSE: BP) Macondo well into the gulf of Mexico. In June, the Attorney General launched a criminal investigation into the spill. That month, BP CEO Hayward was famously quoted as saying “I’m sorry. We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.” Later that month, Hayward was brought before a congressional hearing for an hour and a half of questioning during which he broke down and again apologized, “It never should have happened, and I am deeply sorry that it did.” The next day, Hayward handed over day-to-day operations of the company, and left BP entirely in July 2010.

4. JetBlue
> CEO: David Neeleman
> Year: 2007
> Incident: Passengers stranded on planes for hours

Leading up to the President’s Day weekend in 2007, a bout of terrible weather disrupted air travel in the Northeast and Midwest, causing a group of JetBlue (NASDAQ: JBLU) planes to remain on the tarmac for hours at JFK airport — with passengers on board. In one case, passengers remained on a stranded plane for 11 hours before they were allowed to return to the airport. The delays, and lack of information to passengers on the planes and the airport, caused a public outcry against the company. Soon after, company CEO David Neeleman issued a formal apology: “Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that you, your family, friends and colleagues experienced. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel, and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us. We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.” According to JD Power’s 2011 North American Airline Satisfaction Survey, JetBlue’s reputation has bounced back, but this was easily the low point in the company’s PR history.

5. Sony
> CEO: Howard Stringer
> Year: 2011
> Incident: PlayStation Network hack

In April 2011, Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) was hacked. The personal information of 77 million users was exposed and users were unable to use the service for over two weeks. It was one of the largest data security breaches ever. Approximately three weeks after the cyber attacks, Sony’s CEO Howard Stringer offered an apology. “I know this has been a frustrating time for all of you,” he wrote. “As a company we — and I — apologize for the inconvenience and concern caused by this attack.” To make up for the attack, Stringer offered users identity theft insurance and PSN membership perks.