Four spectacular management mishaps – and how to avoid them

Posted on Oct 9th, 2014 | Running a business

“I hate my boss” – it’s the one of the most well-worn work clichés.

Not getting along with management is a problem that pretty much every employee will face at some point in their working lives. So, it’s no wonder that one of the biggest draws to self-employment is that you get to be your own boss, as a recent study by the RSA revealed.

But what happens when you (inevitably) become so successful that you need to take on an employee yourself? The reality is that management is pretty tricky and there’s a real risk of the hater becoming the hated, if you’re not careful.

We had a dig around to find some of the most spectacularly cringe-worthy management fails of some from the most successful CEOs to demonstrate exactly what you shouldn’t do when you step into the boss’ shoes.

The evil genius – Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Amazon is known for delivering one of the greatest customer experiences of all time. Anyone that uses the service regularly can testify for the insanely fast delivery times, super-responsive customer service and practically unfettered refunds.

Amazon’s users have Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO, to thank for this. Put simply, he’s absolutely mental about customer service, and its been the cornerstone of his corporate strategy since Amazon was founded.

Unfortunately for those that work for Amazon, this makes it a pretty horrific place to work. So bad, in fact, that in September 2014 no less than 2,000 Amazon warehouse workers went on strike in Germany over pay and working conditions – that’s 22% of Amazon’s entire German workforce.

Warehouse workers reportedly get given zero-hours contracts, so they’re not guaranteed any work. They also have to wear a device that monitors their movements, walk up to 15 miles a shift, and have timed toilet breaks.

Striving for great customer service is something every boss should do, but that doesn’t mean that employees should be treated like slaves.

The big mouth – Marge Schott, Cincinnati Reds

Marge Schott, former chairman of the major league baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds, had an incredible knack for offending vast swathes of employees and customers alike with her bigoted language and behaviour.

Although presenting a public image of a cute, all-American Grandma, she began to make a few slips towards the end of her career that revealed her true dark side.

It seems like living through the civil rights movement had zero effect on Mrs Schott. She once publicly referred to two of her star players, Eric Davis and Dave Parker – both African American – as her “million dollar n*****s”. She also came out with other treasures like “only fruits wear earrings” and “Hitler was OK to begin with.”

Because this all happened in the late 80s and 90s, people were quicker to forgive Marge, saying it was a “generational thing”. However, one slip-up made it clear that she was just how callous she really was. An umpire died of a heart attack during the opening game of the 1996 season, to which she remarked:

“Snow this morning and now this. I don’t believe it. I feel cheated.”

It goes without saying that bosses should respect their employees and leave their personal beliefs at home.

The (alleged) sex pest – Dov Charney, American Apparel

American Apparel is famous for its raunchy adverts displaying often very young-looking girls, wearing very little and posing in compromising positions. This risqué campaign was the brainchild of former CEO, Dov Charney – a self-styled sexual deviant whose vision was to create a “highly sexualised corporate culture.”

Unfortunately, Dov took his vision too far… Way too far. In one interview with a journalist from Jane magazine he apparently engaged in sexual acts with a female employee during the interview. Needless to say, Charney was batting off sexual harassment accusations like flies at a sticky August picnic.

Charney got away with his questionable management style while the company was still making money. However, Dov’s infamy preceded him – lenders became increasingly wary of working with him, stock value dropped 80% in the 2013-14 financial year and top talent simply stopped applying for sorely needed positions at the company. He was fired in June 2014.

As a boss, you’re responsible for developing working conditions that make all staff feel comfortable. Treating your staff as property or, worse still, actually abusing them, will ruin lives as well as you and your business’ reputation. Customers, potential staff and investors will run for the hills – and will be perfectly justified in doing so.

The hatchet man – Al Dunlap, various

Al Dunlap, affectionately known as “The Chainsaw” spent his career hopping from company to company, ripping entire staffs to shreds for the sake of boosting company profits. Basically, if you saw Al’s big shiny American roadster pull up to your office, you knew it was time to pull your socks up – all the way to your nose, if possible.

Dunlap had a mega obsession with company financials, to the point where he’d put cutting expenditure before anything else. During his time at Scott Paper, he put 35% of the workforce (or 11,000 people) out of the job. The move brought a rise in share value of 225%, and resulted in Kimberly-Clark buying out Scott Paper the year after for $9.4 billion.

He was aggressive with his tactics, letting noone stand in his way. Businessweek magazine reported that, at a meeting in 1998, Dunlap approached one of his skeptical employees, clasped his hand over his mouth and yelled in his ear “You son of a bitch. If you want to come after me, I’ll come after you twice as hard.”

Dunlap’s tactics were extreme, and began to be viewed as such towards the end of his career. He caused a huge accounting scandal in the late 90s at retailer, Sunbeam, getting the company sued multiple times for fraud. Dunlap was fired, and Sunbeam fell into bankruptcy in 2002.

It’s a fact that businesses have to make money – but they’re also reliant on their employees to survive. As a CEO or company director, it’s often difficult to strike the balance between the two – but getting it wrong either way can have disastrous consequences.

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Written by Nick Chowdrey

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