The Bizarre Habits of 9 Highly Obsessive CEOs
The bizarre rules and regulations set by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries for his corporate jet got us thinking about other overly particular corporate leaders. Turns out Jeffries is part of a long tradition.
It’s perfectly reasonable for a company manual that outlines the policies and procedures of the entire organization to run several dozen pages. A bit over-the-top, however, is a 47-page rule book by which employees assigned to the corporate jet must abide. The “Aircraft Standards” set by Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) CEO Michael Jeffries for his Gulfstream G550 are not only oddly obsessive, but some actually border on fetishistic.
Exposed in the wake of an age-discrimination lawsuit filled last month by the plane’s former pilot, the Abercrombie enchiridion mandates that attendants (often male models) abide by a strict dress code of Abercrombie polo shirts, jeans, boxer briefs, flip-flops, and the brand’s cologne, spritzed periodically during the flight. Unless the temperature dips below 50 degrees, outerwear is prohibited. But don’t think Jeffries’ staff is ever off the hook from having to bare a little hairless chest. Though jackets are permitted, they are to to be fastened at the “fourth button from the bottom,” with the last button left open.
Only when it comes to staffers’ hands does Jeffries insist on formal dress. White gloves must be worn when setting tables for meals -- with the exception of the flatware, which is to be handled with black gloves.
And, lest you think Abercrombie & Fitch shareholders don’t have a stable of unstable on their hands, consider that Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home” is the required soundtrack during boarding on all return flights, a five-point procedure is laid out for the seating of Jeffries’ dogs, and one -- and only one -- response may be uttered by a crew member when responding to a request made by him or his partner, Matthew Smith: “No problem.”
With the company’s stock losing half its value over the past year, the board may want to re-rethink his annual $200,000 personal flying budget, which had already been trimmed from $4 million. For a cost-cutting compromise, how about downsizing to just one pair of gloves... in gray?
Leave it to a depressive to create the happiest place on Earth.
In 1956, the year after opening Disneyland (NYSE:DIS), Walt Disney opened up to the Saturday Evening Post about his self-described 1931 “nervous breakdown” and “crack-up.”
“I kept expecting more from my artists than they were giving me,” Disney said “and all I did all day long was pound, pound, pound. Costs were going up. Somehow, each new picture we finished cost more to make than we figured it would earn.”
Disney’s doctor diagnosed him with “an acute attack of perfectionism.”
But five years after his admitted “emotional tailspin,” Disney still hadn’t entered recovery mode when it came to the unrealistically lofty and confusing demands he continued to make of employees.
In 1936, Disney animator Berny Wolf suffered weeks of undue stress over a few-second throwaway gag of three pelicans doing a Jimmy Durante impression in the Silly Symphonies cartoon short “Elmer Elephant.” During one infamously grueling sweatbox session, Disney seemed to expect Wolf to intuit what he was thinking when he criticized him saying, “You should know better than that.”
Twelve pencil tests later -- and with none of the project crew, including director Wilfred Jackson, being able to make heads or tails of Disney’s discontent -- Wolf took a guess that the birds were facing the wrong direction and traced and re-shot them so the action flowed the other way. On the 13th try, he took it to back to the sweatbox.
"I got it in the reel and Walt looked at it and at me and said, Finally, finally!" Wolf said in Walt's People - Volume 9: Talking Disney With the Artists Who Knew Him (Xlibris, 2010). “You would just want to die.”
When Time magazine names you second in its list of the Top 10 Most Reclusive Celebrities, you’ve probably wrestled with more than your share of demons. And when it comes to bat-crazy billionaires, Minyanville thinks Howard Hughes set the bar.
For the accomplished entrepreneur, innovator, engineer, and filmmaker, multiple talents also, unfortunately, meant multiple psychological disorders. Throughout his 71 years, Hughes produced and directed Oscar-winning films, founded Hughes Aircraft Company, and acquired Trans World Airlines and RKO Pictures. He had a finger in just about every pie in America from the mid-1920s to the mid-1960s and was almost single-handedly responsible for the city of Las Vegas as we know it. But he also likely suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.
A longtime germaphobe, Hughes actually had enough wealth to outsource his compulsive habits to employees. His compulsive rituals were delegated to servants who were forced to wrap his spoon handles in tissue paper and cellophane. Retrieving his hearing aid from the bathroom cabinet was a process that required no less than 45 tissues as well as a hand-washing with a brand new bar of soap.
Hughes’ mental illnesses worsened with age and have been at least partially blamed on trauma he sustained from near-fatal crashes during test flights of his own self-built planes. Toward the end of his life, he hid from public life inside expensive hotel penthouses and spent four months in a dim studio screening room where he subsisted on chocolate bars and milk and stored his urine inside the empty bottles. When he died in 1976 of kidney failure -- triggered by a combination of dehydration and a daily diet of 20-30 aspirin -- he was an unkempt and emaciated 94-pound billionaire without the presence of mind to even leave a proper will.
Money? Check. Murder? Check. Muffins? Checkmate!
Stardust Resort and Casino’s Frank Lawrence "Lefty" Rosenthal took an obsessive approach to quality control that was immortalized by Robert De Niro’s portrayal in the 1995 Scorsese classic Casino. In a famous scene, the persnickety resort owner and mob boss (fictitiously named “Ace”) frets over the unequal blueberry distribution between his and an associate’s muffins. Ace marches into the kitchen and demands the chef fill each individual muffin tin with the same number of blueberries.
Baker: Do you know how long that's going to take?
Ace: I don't care how long it takes. Put an equal amount in each muffin.
Throughout the 1970s, Rosenthal ruled his Las Vegas enterprises with an iron fist (or, if you were a casino cheat, a rubber mallet) but he knew all of his workers by name -- even if they didn’t always measure up to his standards.
“You need manpower and brain power. It was difficult to find good employees in that state [Nevada],” Rosenthal said in an interview with Player. “So if you demand 16 ounces to the pound you are challenged. You are criticized as being a perfectionist.”
Given his paranoid fixation with our commander-in-chief’s birthplace, it’s not necessarily a stretch to learn that Donald Trump suffers from other obsessive tendencies. The NBC (NASDAQ:GE) reality star and occasional real estate developer, who once claimed that, as a supposed foreign-born citizen, Barack Obama has perpetrated “one of the greatest scams in the history of politics, and in history period” may be, clinically speaking, a few tartines short of a picnic.
It’s true; The Donald has OCD. The disease manifests in a phobia of germs. He once distributed bottles of hand sanitizer to reporters at a press conference, refuses to touch elevator buttons, and avoids shaking hands with people. He’s especially palms-off with teachers, whose filthy desks are a veritable cesspool of “17,000 germs per square inch.”
Tragically, it appears Mr. Trump’s condition is worsening. In the midst of the Sandy Storm, the unprecedented weather event that pummeled parts of the Northeast earlier this month, Trump seemed to be suffering from his own mental hurricane. He intensified his attacks on Barack Obama -- this time questioning the legitimacy of the president’s educational history. In a homemade video posted on his Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) page, Trump said the the third day of the storm’s aftermath was a “very, very sad day” since Obama failed to meet his noon deadline to produce his college and passport application records in exchange for $5 million in charity.
Maybe he’ll find a mental health clinic that could use the donation.
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo
In all likelihood, Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) wasn’t going to get its mojo back with a leader that procrastinated her way through her first quarter with the company. Sure, new CEO Marissa Mayer may fall in the more fastidious quadrants of the Myers-Briggs. In fact she could even be accused of having some control issues.
According to an article in BGR, the former Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) executive began imposing her “Googirl” work ethic on her new employees as soon as she took the helm. Product designers have been forced to produce at a far faster pace than they’ve been accustomed. Mayer allegedly only approved a team’s new unit pitch if they could get it to market months ahead of their proposed schedule. She then gave them “exactly one week to figure out how to get the product out by the end of the year,” or else they’d all be fired.
This is, after all, the same person who engineered the perfect cupcake recipe by way of her own meticulously researched and logged spreadsheet data -- and then repeated the process for frosting.
Perhaps a bit overbearing for some people’s tastes, Mayer has insisted she personally sign off on every new company hire and on holding weekly “FYI meetings” that help her keep an eye on them.
If her first earnings call as Yahoo’s CEO is any indication, there’s a method to Mayer’s micromanaging. The company beat analysts’ forecasts of $0.25 a share, reporting a rise in third-quarter earnings by 66% to 35 cents-per-share on $1.09 billion in revenue.
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