February 9, 2016 / 11:01 PM / 2 years ago

Viacom's Dauman comments pale compared to insults by other CEOs

(Editor’s note: this story contains language that may offend some readers)

By Alexandria Sage

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Viacom Inc’s Chief Executive Philippe Dauman rattled investors by lashing out at critics on a conference call, but his comments were not nearly as outrageous as those of some other heads of companies.

In his first public remarks since being tapped last week to replace Sumner Redstone as Viacom’s executive chairman, Dauman took umbrage with critics during a call with analysts, “Our outlook and the facts have been distorted and obscured by the naysayers, self-interested critics and publicity seekers.”

Viacom shares closed down more than 21 percent at a five-year low.

In the annals of peeved chief executives, Dauman’s performance was tame. He did not raise his voice or swear.

Most famously, in 2001 when Jeff Skilling was Enron’s CEO, he fired off a vulgarity during a conference call when a fund manager said, “You’re the only financial institution that can’t come up with balance sheet or cash flow statement after earnings.”

“Well, thank you very much, we appreciate that. Asshole,” Skilling replied.

Skilling, who headed Enron for six months, was convicted in 2006 of conspiracy, securities fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors for his role in maintaining a facade of success as Enron’s energy business crumbled.

In 2003, an executive from Canadian gas producer Encana Corp uttered “fucking asshole” in a whispered comment audible on the company’s conference call.

Encana apologized and said a number of executives were in a room for the call, and it was unclear who had spoken.

The CEO of Emerson Electric Co, David Farr, sparred with investors and analysts at a 2013 meeting, denying the company was “a goddamn one-trick pony” and adding, “If I see that in writing one more goddamn time, I‘m going to tear them apart.”

The language made it into a Barclays Capital analyst report. Farr “is well-liked and proven, yet his questionable outbursts at analyst events and conference calls do not inspire confidence,” Barclays analyst Scott Davis wrote.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief executive of Hogan Worldwide, a personality assessment and leadership development company, said people leading organizations are often “excitable, impatient, with very little time for fluffy and warm personal relationships.”

The “excitable tantrums” of visionaries like former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos are wrongly assumed to be an inherent ingredient in leadership, he said.

“Its unfortunate that male leaders think that they’re showing their toughness and strong leadership material by shouting and screaming and bullying the little people,” Chamorro-Premuzic said. (Reporting By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Peter Henderson)

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