Musk, FTX founder Bankman-Fried led a herd of business turkeys in 2022


I like thanksgiving. Not only is it the quintessential American holiday, but it also reminds my wife and me how grateful we are that the United States has taken in all eight of our grandparents, who left Europe to seek a better life in the US

As a bonus, Thanksgiving allows me to have some journalistic fun writing about turkeys. As in, “Boy, was that deal a turkey!”

Since I’m a business writer, I leave the political turkeys to other people. I only deal with business world follow-ups.

There’s no shortage of that this year, with the Turkey of the Year 2022 award being shared by Elon Musk, CEO of Twitter, SpaceX and Tesla, and Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of FTX and related companies.

Plus, I’ll show you a flock of other farm turkeys after we’re done with these co-winners. Or co-losers.

Let’s start with Musk, who became the 2018 Turkey of the Year for announcing when Tesla was trading at $356 a share that he had secured funds to take the company private at $420 a share. That was not true, which irked the Securities & Exchange Commission. He then refused to accept the settlement his lawyers negotiated with the SEC. In the end, Musk had to pay a $20 million fine and step down as CEO of Tesla. These days, of course, he’s getting quite a bit of anger — or tweets — from the SEC.

Musk seems to love numbers ending in 420, which even a non-cannabis user like me knows is associated with marijuana. That no doubt influenced his bogus $420 Tesla offer and is likely why he offered $54.20 per share to buy Twitter. He made that offer without doing any background checks, then tried to get out of the deal, eventually winding up with a forfeit of about $44 billion to gobble up Twitter’s 800 million shares and also made about $2.5 billion in other cost.

After the deal closed last month, he wiped out about 3,700 people, and more Twitter employees chose to leave rather than accept his threats and harassment.

Advice: Elon Musk just showed us how not to fire people

It would be one thing if Musk had owned the company for years and had to fire people to keep it going. That wouldn’t be fun, but understandable.

But in this case, he bought Twitter, loaded it with debt it will struggle to pay, and then fired people to save money. Totally classless.

What particularly strikes me about Musk’s ragged behavior is that he talks about wanting speech to be unfettered – but earlier this year he fired people at SpaceX for criticizing him. At least that’s what they claim in their lawsuits.

However, Musk believes in unfettered speech for Donald Trump, whom he has welcomed back on Twitter, whom Trump kicked out last year for his role in inciting the January 6 riot.

My guess is that Musk’s backers and his co-investors in Twitter will be seriously roasted for enabling him. Good luck to them. They’ll need it.

Then there’s Bankman-Fried, whose FTX and other companies have lost billions of dollars they got from venture capitalists, lenders, and everyday people who thought cryptocurrency — which I call craptocurrency — was the way to go.

Bankman-Fried poured tens of millions of dollars into Democrats, many of whom do the sensible thing and return the money before angry creditors show up to demand it. It was clearly the right move, both for public relations and legal reasons.

The do-gooder movement that protected Sam Bankman-Fried from scrutiny

He also made liberal donations to various organizations. One of them is ProPublica, which received a $5 million donation spread over three years. ProPublica – which I choose because I have friends there and occasionally write articles for which ProPublica pays me – would not say what it will do with the $1.67 million it has already received and pledged to various projects. Some charities have said they will return the Bankman-Fried money, some politicians say they will give their Bankman-Fried money to charity. Who knows? Maybe some of that will make its way to ProPublica.

Now, for the group of lesser turkeys, which consists of top executives who publicly take the blame for screwing up their businesses and having to lay off a lot of people – but who don’t dip into their own pockets to help the employees they have laid off . They are examples of how talking is cheap.

  • Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook parent company Meta Platforms: “I’m wrong, and I take responsibility for that.”
  • Shopify’s Tobias Lütke: “I misunderstood this.”
  • Jack Dorsey, former CEO of Twitter: “I am responsible for why everyone [at Twitter] is in this situation. I grew the business too fast. Sorry about that.”
  • Robinhood’s Vlad Tenev: “This is on me.”
  • Coinbase’s Brian Armstrong: “I’m the CEO and the responsibility is mine.”

If you are interested in a longer list, Business Insider has a compilation.

I reached out to some of these companies to ask if the people who apologized for the mistakes would share in the sacrifice of the employees who lost their jobs. Some companies responded to me, but none would answer my question.

Neither is Amazon, which is reportedly laying off 10,000 people. Amazon graciously sent me CEO Andy Jassy’s internal memo announcing the job cuts, which he called “role eliminations.” But Amazon would not say whether its founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, was involved in the layoffs or would dive into his own pocket to help Amazons lose their jobs.

I had thought about writing a separate column about these turkeys, but couldn’t bear the idea of ​​writing the same thing over and over about different companies.

Speaking of stomachs, I wish you and yours happy Thanksgiving meals and happy winter festivals of your choice. Good luck, stay safe and try not to act like turkeys.

– Alice Crites contributed reporting to this column.

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