Does CEO’s cursing in public forum rise to level of a crisis?


Emerson Electric Co. CEO David Farr apparently let his anger get the best of him and decorum suffered in a recent talk with analysts.

“We are not a one-trick pony,” Farr said at the Feb. 11 meeting, according to the Wall Street Journal. “If I see that in writing, one more g— d— time, I’m going to tear them apart.” He then apologized for swearing using similarly casual language.

The irony, of course, is that cursing is pretty standard fare these days, especially in private meetings. Movies, cable shows and some publications don’t sugar coat the language.

And we’ve all let an F-bomb or two slip out in anger. But is it appropriate for a CEO to lose his cool like that? And to lose it to the extent that he feels the need to curse — literally take the Lord’s name in vain? At a company headquartered in St. Louis?

As a Fortune 500 CEO, like a mayor, a clergy member or a teacher, should you not be held to higher standards?

Wall Street is surely no stranger to cursing, especially in the last few years. But Farr is also on the board of IBM Corp., and one has to wonder how the pressed white-shirt computer giant might react. He chaired the United Way campaign for Greater St. Louis, and served as vice-president of investor relations for Emerson, so he’s no stranger to analysts’ calls.

They can be prickly, for sure. But some analysts [and reporters] try to rile a CEO, seeking just such a result. This is especially so when the CEO has a reputation for swagger. According to his Wiki profile:

“Under Mr. Farr’s leadership, Emerson laid off 14% of its U.S. workforce in 2009, eliminating nearly 20,000 jobs. While speaking at the Baird Industrial Outlook Conference in Chicago, in November 2009, Mr. Farr attacked the Obama administration for its attention to “labor rules” and “health reform,” and stated: “What do you think I’m going to do? I’m not going to hire anyone in the United States. I’m moving.”

Surely, Farr’s public relations team has urged him to maintain his cool. He slipped this time, has in the past and probably will again in the future. For now, this doesn’t feel like a crisis, but if his behavior results in diminished confidence in his company or his leadership; if civic and corporate invitations dry up; if he does something more that opens to additional criticism; then he’ll be in trouble.

Of course, it’s all so unnecessary and, with a little discipline one would expect a CEO to possess, fixable.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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One Response to Does CEO’s cursing in public forum rise to level of a crisis?

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