Investing

The Worst CEOs In American History

11.   Juergen Schrempp. Schrempp was the architect of the 1998 merger of Daimler and Chrysler, which he called a merger of equals. In fact, Schrempp took control of the combined company almost immediately even though he had a co-CEO, Bob Eaton, for part of his tenure.

Schrempp sold the “merger” to shareholders by saying that Chrysler would reap huge savings by using parts and technology from Daimler, which was highly regarded for its engineering prowess. After the merger, however, Chrysler executives resisted the plan, and Schrempp did not push the matter as hard as he claimed he would. Schrempp also failed to accomplish another key point of the merger’s benefits that he touted: Chrysler’s sales foot print in the US would help Mercedes sell more cars in the US and Mercedes presence in Europe would help Chrysler.

Schrempp ignored the management of Chrysler in the US and its marketing and manufacturing operations began to fall apart only a year after the marriage. Within a year of the deal closing, the new company lost more than 50% of its market cap. Shareholder Kirk Kerkorian sued the company for $9 billion, charging the Germans with fraud for failing to do what they claimed they would do with Chrysler.

Schrempp was pushed out by his board in 2005. Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm, bought Chrysler from Daimler for $7.4 billion in 2007.

12.  Kay R. Whitmore. Eastman Kodak was founded in 1880 and for much of the 20th Century was the gold standard of the film and camera industries. By 1963, the company was No. 44 on the Fortune 500 with sales of over $1 billion, putting it ahead of industrial giants Alcoa and Dow Chemical. The company thrived for the next decade as its share price rose from $12 to $65.

The company continued to dominate the consumer and enterprise photo world until 1984, when Fuji began selling film similar to Kodak’s for 20% less than Kodak’s price. Kay R. Whitmore, the company’s CEO from 1990 to 1993, assumed that its brand would win out over price, and continued to charge premium rates for its film. He was wrong.

Even though Kodak scientists invented the first digital camera and first mega-pixel camera, Kodak failed to commit the company entirely to the digital world.  Kodak assumed that its high-profit film business would continue to dominate the market.

Kodak tried to bridge the period between the decline of film and digital products with instant cameras, launched in 1987.  This helped the company remain profitable in the film business for another 15 years. Whitmore, it could be argued, had a window from the early 1990s until later in the decade to use the company’s brand and R&D prowess to retain the firm’s lead in the imaging business.

Kodak failed to adapt to the new reality, or rather it adapted in a half-hearted way. In the 1990s, it came out with Photo CD, a quasi-digital quasi-analog bridge product with some impressive technology. The company was in the business of selling digital cameras. With each passing year, the core audience for Kodak’s film, film paper, and the cameras that use them disappeared.

13.   William Seawell. Pan Am was the US flagship carrier overseas from the beginning of the Great Depression until the early 1970s. From early on in its history, it flew to Europe, Asia, and Latin America. The firm pioneered the use of clipper aircraft and was an early adopter of commercial jets and jumbo jets, which helped insure the success of the United States aerospace industry.

Most of the company’s growth came during the leadership of Juan Trippe, still considered by many to be the greatest airline CEO in history. Trippe not only expanded the company. He built, by many measures, the most experienced and professional flight crews and ground crews in the industry. Pan Am also built the predecessor of the modern airline reservation system in a partnership with IBM.

William Seawell was the CEO of Pan Am in 1980 when the company bought National Airlines in a bidding war against Frank Lorenzo, a corporate raider. Seawell believed that Pan Am needed a large domestic airline to feed its international routes. But the price for National was $400 million. And that added to the debt the company had already taken on to buy its fleet of Boeing 747s, which it had purchased to increase the capacity of its international fleet. Pan Am tried to salvage its balance sheet by selling the Pan Am building in New York. In September 1981 Seawell was replaced by C. Edward Acker who came too late to save the airline. After struggling with its debt, the company declared bankruptcy less than a decade later.

14. Raymond W. McDaniel, Jr. Moody’s CEO, Raymond W. McDaniel Jr., has been the head of the company since 2005. Since that time, Moody’s, which was founded in 1900, has gone from being one of the two most respected credit rating  agencies in the world, along with S&P, to being the target of public criticism and law suits by Connecticut State and investigations by Congress of its role in the credit crisis.

The Washington Post recently wrote of the investigations “A probe of the credit-rating industry by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that firms used outdated models, were influenced by their clients and waited too long to downgrade investments as the collapse in the housing market intensified in the year before the financial crisis.”

More recently The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission issued a subpoena to Moody’s complaining that the credit rating agency had not complied with its request for documents and e-mails to aid in its investigation. Most recently California subpoenaed Moody’s Investors Service Inc., asking for documents in the state’s investigation of the company’s evaluations of asset-backed securities. There is almost no case to be made that the trouble for Moody’s will not get worse and that its reputation has been effectively ruined. Over the last five years, the DJIA is up slightly and Moody’s is off by over 40%.

During McDaniel’s watch, Moody’s century-long sterling reputation for integrity vanished.  It is almost certain that the value of its brand can never be regained.

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