CEOs aren’t gods – they can’t tell people to ‘EAT DICK’

By Kitty Knowles 1 March 2017
Man looking like Jesus Christ reaches a sunshine. Pic: iStock/Bliznetsov

It's not big and it's not clever.

CEOs are under fire this week, and rightly so – both Uber and Tesla bosses are being grilled over accusations of company-wide gender discrimination.

Sadly, after countless scandals, we’re used to seeing figureheads rolled out to apologise and promise to implement change (as they should).

But when did it become acceptable for CEOs themselves to personally behave disgustingly in public?


“Eat dick” is a deliberately offensive dismissal, complete with nasty sexist undertones. But this week Ryan Holmes, CEO of the $1bn social media manager Hootsuite, thought it was an appropriate way to respond to a Bloomberg journalist on Twitter.

Full disclosure: He actually suggested the reporter call him on the number for a paid sex hotline 1 (800) 328 3425 – but yes that’s 1-800-EAT-DICK, and his meaning is crystal clear. Holmes, followed up with the tweet: “sorry, wrong number”. Hardly an apology from the heart.

Also this week, we saw CEO Travis Kalanick swearing at one of his own drivers in an ugly argument over fares.

Yes, the footage was filmed discretely, but surely the tech elite cannot think it’s ok to behave this way – publicly or privately.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO. Pic: CC.

Nothing new

Upsettingly, while they might surface (somewhat) infrequently, bad behaviour is nothing new. And infallible tech elite often somehow seem to get away with it.

Years may have passed since Satya Nadella said women shouldn’t ask for promotions, but wait for “karma”. He’s still Microsoft CEO.

How quickly we forgot Facebook board member Peter Thiel saying there was no such thing as date-rape.

It’s “belated regret”, remember?

It took three years for Silicon Valley mogul Gurbaksh Chahal to be sent to jail for kicking his girlfriend 117 times, despite the violence being captured on film.

Uber's Travis Kalanick. Pic: CC.

The God complex runs deep

The fact is, these individuals are as good as their actions. And how a CEO behaves, in private as well as in public, is indicative of how they will run a company.

If CEOs are not held to account, they will believe they are all-powerful, and their prejudices will thrive in their companies.

Perhaps at work Hootsuite’s Holmes is a joy to work for, a respectful leader who values those beneath him. But then again perhaps, in one form or other, he tells everyone who crosses him to “eat dick”?

Are we surprised that Uber, a company embroiled in criticism of its workers rights, has a boss who’s been filmed accosting a driver?

If we want to really address the company-wide problems faced by so many of our tech giants today, its our duty to truly scrutinise the behaviour of those at the top.

No man is infallible – no man should be.