Drama, Drugs and Data: A Profile of 10 Top Tech CEOs
With Tons of Sarcasm and Humor to Wrap Up the YearBy
As the heads of some of the largest companies in the world, these chief executive officers make decisions that can affect our daily lives, but just how much do we really know about the filthy rich dudes in positions of power? We examine their careers, personalities, and histories, and make a lot of speculative guesses. From now beefy Bezos to mad McAfee, here's a look at a few top tech CEOs.
Name: Jeff Bezos
Titles: Amazon CEO, Chairman, and President
Who’d have thought that selling books over the internet would lead to becoming the richest man in modern history? Jeff Bezos, that’s who. The Amazon founder likes to portray himself as having a fairly normal lifestyle. Like many average Joes, he has 290,000 acres of land and owns a major national newspaper, a space travel agency, and a company that’s been valued at $1 trillion.
Amazon gets a bad rap for the way it treats its employees, but never forget the firm’s logo: “Work Hard. Have Fun. Make History.” Bezos initially wanted just “Work hard,” but thought it might make morale even worse - if such a thing were possible. He’s also known for his explosive temper - a quality rarely found in Lex Luther-like, ruthless billionaires whose workers are usually striking when not being poisoned by bear repellent.
Bezos recently revealed that Amazon wouldn’t go on forever, warning that big companies tend to have lifespans of 30-plus years, not one hundred-plus years. Whether humanity lasts that long is debatable - maybe that’s why he started Blue Origin, so he can escape to the stars with an army of automatons who will work forever as we all drown/burn/starve.
Likes: Print media, automation, money, “a strong work ethic,” shouting, drones, space, hitting the bench press and pushing out 10 reps@300Ibs - with good form.
Dislikes: Donald Trump, corporate taxes, unions, constant workplace accidents, hair transplants, ungrateful strikers, South Park.
Name: Elon Musk
Titles: CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink; founder of The Boring Company
If Bezos is a James Bond villain, then Musk is 007 himself. Suave and engaging, the Tesla boss is doing everything to save mankind from itself. He’s also a bit of a Twitter troll, which has gotten him into trouble on many, many occasions. Just posting the words “Funding Secured” cost him and Tesla $40 million and his position as chairman of the company’s board. At least he never tweeted anything too crazy, like accusing a someone of being a pedophile.
Musk often talks about his 120-hour work weeks and once said that sleep is not an option, which could explain why he’s not great at receiving criticism -- just ask the customer who had his Tesla order canceled by Musk after he was a bit rude about him. He’s also reportedly prone to “rage firings,” all of which shows how grouchy you can get when sleeping on a factory floor for 5 hours a night.
Tesla certainly isn’t a fan of government agencies, having suffered unlubed probings by the FBI, DOJ, and SEC (who Musk does not respect) – maybe that’s why he’s keen to move to, and eventually die on, Mars. Let’s see anyone try to monitor his tweets up there.
47-year-old Musk is currently dating 30-year-old musician Grimes, making him one of the coolest CEOs in the world. He also took a hit from a fat blunt with Joe Rogan. Hard to imagine anyone else on this list doing the same thing -- well, apart from John McAfee, obviously. And despite appearing to not inhale a substance that’s legal in the state where the podcast took place, it led to NASA investigating SpaceX. Musk should have just thrown caution to the wind and snorted a line of environmentally friendly cocaine.
Likes: Electric vehicles, the First Amendment, working oneself into a state of delirium, Twitter, hair transplants, flamethrowers, tunnels, 4:20, Grimes, space.
Dislikes: The SEC, fossil fuels, artificial intelligence, criticism, sleeping, people checking his tweets.
Titles: Chairman of Palantir, President of Clarium Capital
If ‘conservative’ is a dirty word in the tech world, then Peter Thiel is filthy. While the entire industry gave almost $8 million to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, he alone donated $1.25 million to Trump’s. He was vilified for it, but, as is often the case with Thiel, he got the last laugh, which probably sounded like Sideshow Bob’s when The Simpsons' character won the election.
There have been several things written about Thiel that we now know are definitely not true. He does not, for example, harvest the blood of the young to transfuse it into his own veins in order to live forever. Other completely untrue stories about Thiel include: he slithers into our dimension every morning through a haunted mirror; he is the physical embodiment of Mictlāntēcutli, the Aztec god of death; he puts small insects into plastic bottles and throws them into the sea “so they can have an adventure.”
Thiel is also chairman of data-mining company Palantir. His firm's often accused of being evil, but that's never been proved. Notable clients include Lord Voldemort, Darth Vader, and Satan.
Say what you want about Thiel, but the guy’s got it going on upstairs. He co-founded PayPal, which eventually became a rather large company. Thiel also recognized how much everyone loves seeing photos of other people’s children, food, and vacations, so decided to become Facebook’s first outside investor. And, as Gawker found out, you don't want to piss him off.
Likes: Donald Trump, the US legal system, living forever, New Zealand, Hulk Hogan, capitalist Star Wars, Lord of the Rings.
Dislikes: Gawker, Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep, sugar (apparently), communist Star Trek.
Name: Mark Zuckerberg
Titles: CEO, Chairman of Facebook
During his college years, Zuckerberg created a program called Facemash that let users pick which person from a selection of photos was hotter. Some complained that this violated their privacy – a concept Zuck still seems unable to comprehend. Or maybe he just doesn’t care.
Almost fifteen years after he launched thefacebook.com, he’s now one of the five richest people on Earth, all thanks to Zuck’s ingenuity and his ability to ‘find inspiration’ from the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narenda.
While most of us use Facebook to discover just how awful people can be, Zuckerberg has always said the aim of the platform is to bring everyone together. It’s also helpful for scooping up petabytes of personal data, which the CEO greedily consumes like a pig ramming its snout into an information-rich trough.
2018 has certainly been Zuckerberg’s annus horribilis. Cambridge Analytica was a watershed moment when it comes to how companies deal with users’ privacy, and as soon as the dust settled on one data breach, another popped its head up. The ‘Bergmeister,’ as he’s known to his friends, also appeared before Congress this year, where he said he’d either “follow up” or “get back” to a question 31 times. His unblinking eyes and pallid complexion at the time made him resemble an alien, an android, or both – like the offspring of Lieutenant Commander Data and the Borg queen.
Zuckerberg also has to deal with election interference, extremism, claims of bias, bots, and fake news – a term many now use for something they either don’t agree with or find hard to accept. But despite the outcry, the only consequences for Facebook is a slowing user growth rate, and that’s partly because most of the world is already on the platform.
In his spare time, Zuckerberg likes to write down as many digits of Pi as he can remember.
Likes: Your personal data, advertisers, AI, people who don’t care about privacy, China.
Dislikes: Russian bots, Tim Cook, election interference, The Social Network movie, lawsuits, Donald Trump.
Titles: Executive Chairman of Alibaba
Being the co-founder and chairman of the Alibaba Group, aka China’s Amazon, can put a lot of stress on a person. Thankfully, Jack Ma’s love of theatrics helps him deal with the pressure of running a company with a $40 billion per year revenue.
With an estimated net worth of $37.6 billion, Ma is Asia’s richest man, but that doesn’t make him a stuffed shirt. At his firm’s 18th birthday celebrations last year, he took to the stage on a motorbike before breaking into a Michael Jackson-inspired dance routine. But that was nothing compared to his moving rendition of Can You Feel The Love Tonight (skip to the 01:16 mark in the video below) while looking like a character from Cyberpunk 2077. He often says that having so much money isn’t a good thing – yeah, you can’t help but feel sorry for him.
Like most short guys, myself included, Ma is ambiguous about his height: it seems to vary between just under 5 foot to 5 foot, 5 inches. But even though he’s no imposing giant, you don’t want to mess with him. Ma’s heavily into martial arts, especially Chen-style Tai Chi Chuan. He even appeared in a short movie that saw him kick the asses of Donnie Yen, Jet, Li, Tony Jaa, Sammo Hung, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, and many more famous Asian stars.
Ma has been equally cagey about revealing his political affiliations. He did once say of the Chinese government: “be in love with them, but don’t marry them,” which is probably one of the nicest things ever said about Xi Jinping and his pals. But last month, Ma, the face of Chinese capitalism, was outed as a communist party member.
Likes: Showtunes, Tai Chi, Disney, communism, Alibaba, China and its ruling party, Singles Day.
Dislikes: Being incredibly rich, stress, the trade war.
Title: CEO of Apple
Tim Cook often comes across as a friendly uncle, but you don’t become boss of the world’s most valuable company by being too nice. For a start, he makes all his Apple Park staff use standing desks, which sounds like a pain in the ass, or helps prevent it. Interestingly, Cook’s net worth pales in comparison to some of the other CEOs; his fortune is estimated to be ‘just’ $625 million, which could be why he reportedly buys discounted underwear.
Cook also isn’t afraid to stand up to law enforcement. He told the FBI where to shove it when the agency wanted Apple's help in unlocking the San Bernardino iPhone. The feds got someone else to do it the end. We don’t know if it was Cellebrite or some gray hat hackers, but we do know it cost them $900,000, or around 1 percent of Cook’s salary.
Cook says Apple values customers’ privacy, and he’s managed to piss Zuckerberg off so much with his comments about not selling data that the Facebook CEO told all his management to use only Android phones. But while Cook does say some admirable stuff, he also said the $999 iPhone X was “value price,” so…
Likes: Privacy, iPhones, China, private jets, tax reforms, deteriorating batteries.
Dislikes: Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, Qualcomm, patent trolls, deteriorating batteries.
Titles: CEO of Twitter, CEO of Square
It’s easy to forget now, but when Jack Dorsey finally moved from interim chief executive officer to permanent CEO of Twitter in 2015, the microblogging site he co-founded was struggling. A year later, tech firms from Google to Apple were reportedly interested in buying the company, but when they confirmed this to be BS, Twitter’s stock crashed, layoffs were announced, execs left, and user growth continued to flatline. Imagine dealing with all this while simultaneously being CEO of Square. If that wasn’t bad enough, Dorsey was named the seventh worse CEO in America, though he was probably happy to see Snapchat's Evan Spiegel was one spot ahead of him.
Things are looking a lot better on Twitter these days, with daily average users and its stock price looking a lot healthier than when Dorsey took over. Though shares recently took a battering when an investor called it "the Harvey Weinstein of social media."
A lot of Twitter's reversal of fortunes are down to its most famous user, Donald Trump, who seems to have a love/hate relationship with the platform. In another turnaround of fortunes, Dorsey was this year named one of the best CEOs in the world. Spiegel, meanwhile, never even made the top 542. #suckitsnapchat
Twitter has removed many people from my account and, more importantly, they have seemingly done something that makes it much harder to join - they have stifled growth to a point where it is obvious to all. A few weeks ago it was a Rocket Ship, now it is a Blimp! Total Bias?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 26, 2018
Dorsey comes from the Elon Musk school of working over 18 hours a day, most of which is probably spent dealing with toxic Twitter users, Russian bots, hacks, accusations of liberal bias, accusations of kowtowing to right-wingers, and trimming his beard into a stylish new shape while listening to Kendrick Lamar.
The Twitter boss is also a fan of yoga and recently tweeted about his 10-day meditation retreat in Myanmar, urging his followers to visit the country. His failure to mention its human rights atrocities didn’t go down so well.
Likes: Yoga, beards, Kendrick Lamar, Presidents using Twitter, nose rings, mobile payments, hashtags, memes (but not when they’re used for hacks).
Dislikes: Bots, being compared to Facebook, publicly tweeting about his vacations.
Title: CEO of Google
In 2015, Google announced the company was reorganizing and would become a subsidiary of umbrella corporation Alphabet, which in no way is like Resident Evil’s Umbrella corp. As part of the restructuring, Pichai Sundararajan, or Sundar Pichai, as he’s better known, moved from Google’s head of Products and Engineering to the CEO position.
Like Tim Cook, Pichai’s more of a softly spoken leader, rather than a Jeff Bezos-style shouter. When he took over the company, one Google employee said: “All the assholes have left.” It’s worth remembering, though, that what most people consider asshole-like behavior is often the norm in Silicon Valley.
Pichai led the team of engineers behind the original Chrome prototype, so complain to him next time the browser’s annihilating your RAM. In 2013, he replaced creator Andy Rubin as head of Android. Rubin left a year later and eventually came up with Essential Phone — a decision he may be regretting.
Google has a lot in common in Apple: they both get in trouble with the EU for not paying enough tax. It’s an issue Pichai has had to deal with, along with antitrust accusations, the Pentagon drone project, a 20,000-person walkout over sexual harassment allegations, allowing third-party apps to scrape data from Gmail accounts, and the controversial Project Dragonfly search engine — a subject he danced around when appearing before Congress. Not surprising that Google buried its “don’t be evil” motto long ago. Now, it's "Do the right thing," which sounds like it's been lifted from a commercial for trainers.
Likes: Android phones, China, the internet, Gmail.
Dislikes: The EU Commission, Congress, antitrust charges, Apple, bugs in Google+.
Titles: CEO at Luxcore, founder of McAfee
It’s amazing to think that despite his name being synonymous with one of the world’s leading anti-virus products, that’s one of the less interesting aspects of John McAfee’s life. This is a man who settled in Belize in a home filled with drugs, weapons, guards, and prostitutes. It was here that he was subject to a raid and found himself the prime suspect in a murder, escaping authorities by burying himself in sand with a cardboard box over his head.
McAfee was later arrested for illegally entering Guatemala, where he had to fake two heart attacks so his attorney had more time to prevent his deportation back to Belize. If anything, McAfee’s living proof that nerds aren’t boring.
After an experience like that, most people would probably want to simply have a nice lie down for the rest of their lives, but not McAfee - he decided to try for a presidential run. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, which is a shame as his cybersecurity background would have made him a great POTUS, and his love of hookers, guns, and blow would have given him plenty of appeal across many demographics.
Back during the San Bernardino iPhone incident, McAfee said he would put together a team of super hackers who sounded like they’d just stepped out of the 90s (“24-inch purple mohawks!" Hack the planet!) to break the encryption, but he later admitted most of what he said was bullshit to “get a shitload of public attention.”
In recent times, McAfee’s moved into the world of crypto investment, which right now must be like being a Blockbuster employee in the mid-2000s. In 2017, he publicly tweeted that he would eat his own dick on national television if Bitcoin did not reach $500,000 within the next three years. He’s now deciding what side dish will best compliment his Johnson.
Earlier this year, he backed an “unhackable” crypto wallet that a teenager managed to run the original Doom on, though he insists this doesn’t count as a hack.
Whatever you think of McAfee, he’s led a life worthy of the best Hollywood movie. Long may he keep adding color to an industry that isn’t known for CEOs with rock and roll lifestyles.
Likes: Crypto, guns/narcotics/booze/ladies of the night (probably not as much these days), offering an opinion on everything.
Dislikes: The law, Belize, vague definitions of the word “hacking,” making rash promises.
Title: CEO of Microsoft
When Satya Nadella took over as Microsoft boss in 2014, he replaced the mighty Steve Ballmer as the head of the company. Ballmer, of course, appears in many of the entries on our ‘Most Awkward moments in tech’ feature. It seems the Redmond firm decided to pick a CEO with an opposing personality in Nadella -- picturing him dancing manically across the stage, or repeatedly shouting the word “DEVELOPERS!” isn’t easy. Nadella also tried to dissuade Ballmer from purchasing Nokia, and we all know what a brilliant investment that turned out to be.
Nadella doesn’t often get involved in controversy - at least not since saying women should trust the system and not ask for raises -- but there was that whole Windows 10 forced update debacle. Microsoft’s aggressive tactics to get users to switch to its new OS included malware-like tricks and ramming popups down users’ throats. It also planned to send employees to the homes of Windows 7/8 users and repeatedly punch them in the face until they updated, but it ended up costing too much.
Lets not forget the employee revolt against Microsoft’s involvement with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), though Nadella said it was just helping agents with their email -- not sure what that has to do with the previously mentioned facial recognition and deep learning services, though.
There’s one area where Nadella has everyone else on this list beat: he’s been ranked as the best CEO (large companies) in the US. He's ahead of 6th-place Bezos, who only managed to reach that high by forcing employees to vote for him.
Likes: The cloud, cricket, Bill Gates, Windows 10 users, forced updates, poetry.
Dislikes: Windows 7/8 users, Steve Ballmer, Nokia.