Corporate Execs in the Hot Seat, Getting Burned

Photo: Pier Paolo Cito/AP

Smells like bacon? Oh, that’s just the aroma of corporate leaders getting burned by bad press, crisis situations, and business downturns. It’s not anything new necessarily, but three’s a trend so why not take a closer look at three recent cases, shall we?

First we have the case of the quiet CEO — Mickey Arison, CEO of Carnival, which owns the Costa Concordia, the ship that ran aground off the coast of Italy on January 13 killing, at last count, 13 people. Pier Luigi Foschi, CEO of Costa Crociere SpA, Carnival’s Italian arm, has been speaking publicly, mostly to blame the captain, Francesco Schettino, who, with his ability to trip and fall to safety, is the luckiest mariner in the history of sea travel.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Arison is a hands-off boss, so his response so far (basically no response) is in keeping with his management style. He hasn’t given an interview since the tragedy, didn’t speak to the Journal for this article, and a friend says he wants to avoid speaking because then “Carnival is speaking” and he wants to somehow keep a safe distance from his company’s own company.

“By maintaining a low public profile during the Costa Concordia crisis, Mr. Arison and Carnival also might limit the focus on the parent company and its other cruise lines,” the article says. That may not help you however, Mr. Arison, because people are now reading the labels.

Also, it doesn’t help when you’ve got leaked interrogations containing claims of a “publicity stunt” that may have been behind the ship’s trip too close to shore. And, the company is giving coupons in addition to refunds for people who were on the cruise that’s now leaning on its side in the photo above. In case they want to “stay loyal.” Wow.

Then we had the weekend resignations of Research in Motion co-heads Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. Where the company was the most valuable company in Canada in 2008, BlackBerry’s share of the smartphone market fell to just 10 percent last year. COO Thorston Heins is now the CEO, which caused a momentary jump in stock price, but then a quick fall during a conference call this morning “as investors weighed whether the BlackBerry maker could regain its footing in the U.S. without major changes,” the Journal writes.

It makes sense for a new corporate exec to talk about continuity, but is it wise to stress how much things will stay the same when things aren’t going well? InformationWeek has some suggestions for what should be a priority and we’ll add to the list, “Talk about how things will get better.”

Finally, a little belatedly, Jerry Yang has stepped down from the board of directors at Yahoo. Yang has become almost a symbol of the Internet company’s fall from the top. In a short letter published on AllThingsD, Yang basically ignores that, saying that he’s leaving to pursue other interests. What he’s leaving behind are dismal Q4 forecasts, which can’t be helpful to new CEO Scott Thompson as he tries to right this ship.