Sometimes you look at the morning's headlines and wonder what exactly a particular CEO was thinking when they made a certain statement. Recently we've had these gems from seasoned CEOs:
Carol Bartz told Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch to f**k off.
Steve Ballmer admitted his company was number 5 in the cell phone market.
Mark Hurd said HP didn't buy Palm to get into the smart phone market.
On the face of it, all three of these statements make you stand up and think that maybe the three of them went off their rocker for a moment, but I don't think that's what happened at all. I think each of these statements was carefully scripted with the purpose of putting the CEOs and their company's front and center in the collective minds of internet users. And it worked.
Social Media with a Bullet
Let's face it in the days of Twitter, Bartz's statement went around the world instantly. Suddenly everyone was talking about Yahoo! That she did it to Michael Arringington, a guy who wouldn't necessarily win many popularity contests, was even shrewder on her part. How many people would want to see a video snippet of the Yahoo! CEO telling Arrington to F**k off. Lots, I'm certain. If that was the intent of her statement, she did a really good job. Whatever her thinking, she didn't say it by chance. She knew there were cameras, and I would say she knew exactly what she was doing.
Hurd and Ballmer Aren't Stupid Either
Although it often may seem that these guys don't have clue, the fact is they are both very bright men who didn't get where they are by accident. If you doubt me, check out this recent video interview with Ballmer at D8. He's clearly smart and articulate, and verbal faux pas don't normally accidentally escape his lips. He's too intelligent and too experienced for that, so when he lets it drop that his company is number 5 in the smart phone market and they missed a whole development cycle, it probably has a purpose. Maybe he wants to lower expectations so that should market share improve it looks all that much more impressive, and if it doesn't, well they sucked anyway.
Hurd is the same way. A lot of people did a double take when he made the statement recently about the Palm purchase, but he likely had a good reason. Selling cell phones is tough business. Just ask Ballmer (or Palm). Maybe he didn't want people to think that HP was trying to go after that piece of business too heavily, or maybe he really just wanted to promote the WebOs as an alternative operating system for consumer devices like the tablet computer. Whatever the reason, I'm sure it wasn't a slip of the tongue on his part.
So the next time you see what appears to be stupid statement from a smart CEO, think about it. These guys know exactly what they are saying, and like crafty politicians, they rarely go off script.
Photo by Yodel Anecdotal on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.