The Bizarre Habits of 9 Highly Obsessive CEOs
By Diane Bullock and Jonah Loeb Nov 13, 2012 12:00 pm
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.
Before there were Abercrombie jets, before there was a Magic Kingdom, before The Donald…there was Tesla. An Austrian-born Serb who died penniless despite being one of the greatest scientists and inventors of all time, Tesla has become a sort of cult figure in pop culture.
Tesla's long-standing feud with Thomas Edison and his tragic life story make him an easy figure to idealize, and there's good reason to admire him; in his prime working years from about 1884 to 1930, he invented everything from the spark plug to the airplane turbine engine to the remote-control boat. His high-voltage and high-frequency experiments at Colorado Springs in 1899 were and still are some of the most ambitious and ingenious scientific projects ever performed.
In reality, though, Tesla was -- as an employer and as a person -- truly bizarre.
His obsessive-compulsive disorder, quite pronounced in his later years, gave him a hatred of round objects and of hair and an obsession with the number three. He was, at 6-feet 2-inches tall and 142 pounds, almost skeletally thin, and his dislike for overweight people caused him to fire a secretary who had put on a few extra pounds. Perhaps it's just as well for the world that Tesla remained celibate his entire life.
Oh, and he never slept more than two hours at a time. And he sometimes saw blinding flashes of light accompanied by visions. And he fell in love with a pigeon. Nikola Tesla is that rare figure of such simultaneous brilliance and insanity -- think Michael Jackson -- that any really weird story about him is probably true.
Under the leadership of Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) from 1997 to 2011, the company went from a PC also-ran to an international superbusiness on the back of beautiful, innovative products like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. One of his first major hits was the iMac, an all-in-one desktop computer that came in vibrant colors like blue, green, and orange.
Know what else came in orange? Steve Jobs.
The Apple CEO was famously weird about his eating habits and once reportedly ate so many carrots in such a short time period that his skin turned a vibrant orange. He would often eat only one kind of food for weeks and lecture his friends and family about the virtues of his current diet, only to abandon it for another obsession shortly afterward. Jobs even claimed that his fruit-only diet made it necessary for him to bathe only once a week, a notion that may not have been shared by Apple employees.
By the end of his life, Jobs had even realized that refraining from food could induce periods of euphoria and would fast even when his ailing body required nutrition. His perfectionism may have created some of the most iconic product lines in the history of consumer goods, but it also made him an intense, demanding, and, well, orange person.
His strangeness didn't stop with his diet, either. Jobs' employees reported that he often demanded impossible amounts of work from them with little to no recognition of their physical or emotional limitations, simply refusing to take "I can't do that" for an answer. To be fair, he never balked at that kind of work himself, often staying up for entire days at a time coding. Jobs even worked himself literally into the ground, leaving four years' worth of product plans to Apple when he died in October of 2011.
Crazy or not, Jobs' approach worked. Upon hearing that Bill Gates had remarked that Apple's business model only worked because it had Steve Jobs, Jobs snapped that Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) model only worked because it "[didn't] mind making crappy products."
Martha Stewart, home and living guru to millions and convicted white-collar criminal, is almost certainly a robot. The Jersey City native has turned her knack for decorating into a multi-billion-dollar company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE:MSO), through the kind of hard work and merciless commitment that can build and ruin nations.
Stewart is always-always-in control. Her list of personal (not professional) employees is in the dozens, from drivers to stable hands (for her many horses) to personal assistants. Countless women have struggled in vain to maintain the kind of focus and excellence that Stewart never deviates from. Even when she was in prison for securities fraud, Stewart (because sometimes the world is just filled with delights) went by the name "M. Diddy" and, according to some reports, created and ran a baked-goods black market while behind bars.
Yes. Exactly like you hoped against hope that she would.
Despite (or probably because of) this all-around perfection, Stewart is a terrifying boss. According to reports posted on Gawker and elsewhere, no ink other than red or black may be used in her offices, every employee's desk must be entirely clear at the end of each day, and nobody is allowed to have any personal items like, you know, coffee mugs or photos of loved ones.
The terror in the air hasn't produced stellar results for investors, mind you. Last week Omnimedia reported a $50.7 million quarterly loss and total revenue of $43.5 million, a 17% drop in revenue compared to the same quarter last year. The company is planning to layoff about 12% of its workforce.
In Martha Stewart's world, the only loved one is Martha Stewart. That's how her whole operation works, and that's probably why it works.
No positions in stocks mentioned.