If you have the title Chief Executive Officer slapped next to your name, you've probably heard a lot of opinions about your performance and even your character over the years. Powerful people tend to be polarizing by nature. It's been that way since before Jesus turned the water into wine. (Talk about polarizing!)
The point is simple — CEOs will never please everyone. Still, these CEOs have made decisions that divided public opinion a lot more than their peers (so far) in 2021.
Adam Neumann, WeWork
No Neumann has attracted more vitriol since Jerry Seinfeld's pesky mailman/neighbor wreaked his unique brand of havoc in the ‘90s. You may have seen Adam Neumann in the headlines recently, as the former CEO of WeWork received a reported $1.7 billion buyout.
Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos
Elizabeth Holmes is the most notorious CEO since the Enron guys contributed to a national financial crisis. She was brash, she wore a black mock turtleneck like Steve Jobs and she was supposed to revolutionize the healthcare industry. She turned out to be revolutionizing little more than false methods of self-promotion.
Kevin Burns, Juul Labs
Juul was once the hottest vape on the market. If there was ever an effective campaign to get kids not to smoke, Juul was it. The flavors...the clouds...the Juul — but let’s not get sidetracked marketing Juul.
Harald Krueger, BMW
It's not always the case, but when a CEO steps down, it's often because the company isn’t thriving. Harald Krueger was employed by BMW for the better part of three decades, ultimately ascending to the role of CEO, a position he held for four years.
Kevin Tsujihara, Warner Bros.
As society has become much more focused on speaking out against sexual harassment and punishing the culprits, it was inevitable that Hollywood types like Kevin Tsujihara of Warner Bros. would pay the price. Tsujihara recently resigned from his position as CEO, although he hasn’t been convicted until the formal legal process unfolds.
Hiroto Saikawa, Nissan
You may believe that CEOs are grossly overpaid, but apparently former Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa embraces a different train of thought. He was one of the most prominent names to fall from grace after he admitted that he and other Nissan executives intentionally overpaid themselves.
Rupert Hogg, Cathay Pacific Airways
If you've been paying attention to the controversy embroiling the NBA regarding the Hong Kong protests, you may have realized that the topic is quite polarizing. LeBron James isn't the only one who has been swept up in the controversy. Rupert Hogg (great name), the former CEO of Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airlines, lost his job over the matter.
Richard Plepler, HBO
Richard Plepler is what some in the entertainment industry would refer to as a "lifer." He was a fixture at Home Box Office, more commonly known as HBO, for 27 years. After he was promoted to Chairman and CEO, he oversaw a period of growth that cemented HBO as a staple in the popular culture lexicon.
Timothy Sloan, Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo's public reputation has been so heavily battered and bruised that anybody who becomes the face of the company is going to face some big challenges with the public. Sloan took over the CEO post in 2016 with a mandate to clean up the beleaguered bank's reputation.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg has become a cultural icon, and he deserves a lot of praise as a businessman. As everyone knows, he took a clever idea conceived in his Harvard dorm room to its current status as one of the bedrocks of Silicon Valley. But has Zuck ventured too far out of his lane?
Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX
What can you say about Elon Musk? Well, how many other CEOs have smoked pot on the most popular podcast on the planet? How many other CEOs have sparked investigations from the Securities and Exchange Commission based on a series of tweets? That’s right, zero.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon
There’s no denying that Amazon provides perhaps the most reliable, useful consumer service known to man. Want the latest bestselling novel the day it comes out? Amazon. Run out of hand soap or baby food and need more tomorrow? Amazon. The company gives you access to almost anything you want without ever leaving your couch.
Bob Iger, Disney
Disney is inherently a love-it-or-hate-it company. Some point to the company's acquisition as ESPN as the turning point that led to the demise of the channel's policy of exclusively focusing on sports. Various opinions also exist on the cultural impact of Disney and its ongoing effect on the youth of the world.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft
When you take over a company formerly run by someone as famous and admired as Bill Gates, you better expect your every move to be heavily scrutinized. Microsoft's Satya Nadella embraced some sky-high expectations when he took the job as CEO, but thick skin doesn't make the criticism any less real.
Hock Tan, Broadcom, Inc.
If you thought the $52 million FleetCor's CEO made this year was exorbitant and the $66 million Bob Iger netted as CEO of Disney was obscene, then wait until you hear about Hock Tan. Broadcom's CEO is loaded.
Les Moonves, CBS
Sure, it's 2021, but people don't forget sexual crimes. We've touched on many of the most scandalous CEOs of this year, but the lingering odor of the CBS sexual harassment scandal revelations made in 2018 still linger for many. Former CEO Les Moonves was at the heart of the harassment allegations and was even accused of assault.
Hugh Grant, Monsanto
If you want to find chief executives that court controversy, start by looking at the companies that attract the most critics. Monsanto is considered by some to be the equivalent of the evil empire, putting small farmers out of business and developing products that have been found to be unsafe.
Mark Hurd, Oracle
A sure-fire way for a CEO to become a hated figure is to make a lot of money. That is the primary gripe that critics seem to have with Mark Hurd, who is the co-CEO of computer software giant Oracle.
Safra Catz, Oracle
Safra Catz is the other co-CEO at Oracle, and she is paid just as handsomely as her male counterpart, Mark Hurd. And handsomely, if you remember, means $108.3 million in salary per year.
Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo
As society is becoming healthier and healthier, more and more people take issue with the CEO of what is essentially a soda company making nearly $25 million per year. Although Nooyi stepped down in 2018, she made waves with a series of public comments that essentially said it's not her job to regulate the public's diet.
Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase
Bankers may forever get a bad rap after the financial crisis of 2008 ruined countless lives, and the banking industry was exposed as playing a significant role in the crash. Jamie Dimon seems to be a decent guy, but he’s a banker, which immediately makes people suspicious.
Brian Roberts, Comcast
Are you a Comcast customer who is less than satisfied with the price and/or quality of your cable or internet service? Want to know who you should blame for your displeasure? It's Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast!
Randall Stephenson, AT&T
Who doesn't have a complaint about some aspect of their cell phone provider? Seriously, no one is 100% satisfied with all aspects of their service. Randall Stephenson is one of the few mobile company CEOs remaining, which means he bears the brunt of many complaints.
James Gorman, Morgan Stanley
To be fair, we are essentially listing the highest-paid CEOs at this point on the list. These people didn't do anything particularly upsetting, but in a time when people are struggling under the weight of astronomically high prices, highly-paid CEOs are easy targets.
John Milligan, Gilead Sciences
Biotechnology seems to be a noble cause. Coming up with cures for HIV, AIDS, hepatitis and other deadly diseases provides a great service, especially to those who desperately need those treatments. Still, what could you possibly do on a daily basis to warrant an annual salary of $26 million?
Tim Cook, Apple
Who is going to willingly walk in the shadow of Steve Jobs? Tim Cook, that's who. The current CEO of Apple walked head-on into one of the tallest tasks in the modern business world: not dropping the ball on Jobs' massive tech empire.
Michael Corbat, Citigroup
A little tip: If you want to be universally loved, don't go into banking. Another tip: If you don't want to be loathed, do not become the CEO of a massive bank like Citigroup. Apparently, Michael Corbat isn’t interested in the concept of being universally loved. He just wants to serve as the CEO of Citigroup.
Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing
Boeing is one of the most important companies in the world, so you could understand how its CEO would make a pretty penny. But $23 million is one very pretty penny! Some might even say that penny is way too pretty.
Larry Merlo, CVS
Pharmacy-retailer hybrids like CVS and Walgreens are struggling, and it's no secret why. With massive stores and a relatively inexplicable business model — we could just order the stuff on Amazon, right? — these types of outlets are predicted by many to go the way of the dinosaurs.
Mary Barra, General Motors
Is American automotive manufacturing back? Optimists may answer with an emphatic "Yes!", but critics point to CEOs like GM's Mary Barra, who makes almost $22 million in salary, claiming it’s the same old top-down power structure that has plagued the American auto industry for decades.