In our 16 years of business, we've represented a few particularly, foul-mouth executives.
I remember a young, dotcom PR director, for example, whose salty language would put any longshoreman to shame (note: PR Week actually named her one of the industry's bright, young stars way back when). Not surprisingly, I've haven't heard or read of her since. My guess is she's plying her trade as a stevedore these days.
Another foul-mouthed leader was a guy named Joe, who was the short-lived CEO of VerticalNet, Newell Rubbermaid and about 30 other companies. He was incapable of uttering a sentence that didn't begin or end with the F bomb.
But, the true Babe Ruth of the expletive deleted was Carol Bartz, Yahoo's just fired CEO.
Bartz not only cursed a blue streak, but also used bullying tactics and fear to try and turn around her also-ran company (note: in the interests of transparency, I must acknowledge we had one of the stormiest, most abusive client/agency relationships with Y! in Peppercom history).
Our team had ringside seats for the inauguration of Ms. Bartz three years ago. We had just won Yahoo's business and were in the midst of a multi-day brand immersion (which consisted of little more than listening to various sales and marketing teams explain why they were losing market share to Google and Microsoft).
We were assured all that was about to change with the advent of Ms. Bartz, a noted turnaround artist who'd worked wonders at Autodesk.
And, so we eagerly shuffled into a massive, suitably New Age-looking employee cafeteria cum auditorium to hear the new CEO's vision for a bright future.
After receiving a standing ovation from the thousands in attendance (and the thousands more viewing via video conference from around the world), Carol began her speech. After hearing all the Bartz hype, we were expecting something along the lines of “…a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” or “We have nothing to fear but fear itself," or even “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Instead, Bartz launched into an expletive-laced discourse that began with the company's ongoing problems with press leaks. “The first person I catch leaking confidential information to the media,” she yelled, jabbing her finger at the astonished throng, “I will personally drop kick his f*cking ass to Mars!”
One could hear the proverbial pin drop as she followed that threat with even scarier ones. Finally, mercifully, she ended her speech. Then the nascent CEO opened the floor for a question-and-answer session. I'll never forget the first query. It went something like this:
Employee (smiling): “Carol, we're so glad you're here and ready to lead us back to greatness. That said, you mentioned leaks to the press. Many of us in engineering have our own personal media contacts. I assume it's OK to continue speaking to them?”
Bartz (frowning and scowling): “What, are you f*ucking brain dead, or something? Did you not JUST hear me say I'll kick your f*ucking ass to Mars if you talk to the press? How stupid can one person be? Any other stupid questions?”
And, so on and so forth.
Afterwards, I remember walking back across campus with one of the in-house corporate PR types. He asked us, “So, guys, what did you think of Carol?” I felt like I'd just been asked what I'd thought of the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. But, since this was about two weeks into a 100k per month account, I tread carefully. “Well,” I responded, “She's certainly direct.” The client smiled, nodded his head and said, “Yup. She's EXACTLY what Yahoo needs.”
Well, as events turned out, the client was dead wrong. Carol Bartz was exactly what Yahoo DIDN'T need. She didn't turn things around. And, her foul-mouthed, acerbic ways (beautifully illustrated in this video, BTW) succeeded in alienating any support she might have otherwise garnered to protect her when the company continued to languish.
Instead, Carol Bartz and her salty tongue are walking away with a golden parachute that, were she so inclined, would probably buy enough rocket fuel to propel HER f*ucking ass to Mars. Which is where she, and other foul-mouthed, fear-mongering CEOs belong.