Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk.
Photograph by Patrick Fallon — Reuters
By Nancy Mann Jackson
May 15, 2015

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, made headlines this week–though probably not in the way he would’ve liked.

According to a new biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, by Ashlee Vance, Musk once scolded an employee for missing a work event to witness the birth of his child. Vance writes that Musk sent the employee the following email:

“That is no excuse. I am extremely disappointed. You need to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t.”

On Tuesday, Musk vigorously denied Vance’s account:

He did not, however, take issue with many of the other statements attributed to him, such as his response when an employee complained about working too many hours: “I would tell those people they will get to see their families a lot when we go bankrupt,” he reportedly said.

While we can’t know what really was or wasn’t said to that new dad, perhaps Musk can take some comfort in the fact that he’s far from the first CEO to be accused of punishing employees for having obligations outside of the office. Here, a look at four other chief executives who’ve been tagged with the “family-unfriendly” label.

Henry Juskiewicz, CEO of Gibson Guitar

Gibson chief executive Henry Juszkiewicz holds a Gibson guitar in front of a wall of guitars outside of his office at the Gibson Guitar corporate offices in Nashville, Tennessee, September 22, 2011.
Photograph by Jeff Adkins — Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

When a Gibson Guitar employee requested an extra day off for the Thanksgiving holiday last year, CEO Henry Juskiewicz responded with a lengthy email copied to several company executives, starting with the word “NO” in caps.

The rest of the email, published by Gawker, included:

You cannot take long weekends or long holidays unless there are special circumstances. You are leaders and these are work days. During work our leaders need to be there doing their jobs. Taking time off when other people cannot do so or causing insufficient staff during working periods shows a lack of responsibility and consideration for all that depend on our business to be there for them.

While that policy may seem pretty inflexible, Juskiewicz later told Gawker that his adamant response was due to the employee’s abuse of company vacation policies.

 Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo

Marissa Ann Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo!, arrives for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala 2015 celebrating the opening of "China: Through the Looking Glass," in Manhattan, New York May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly - RTX1BJMN
Photograph by Andrew Kelly — Reuters

When five-months-pregnant Marissa Mayer took over as CEO of the Internet giant, many working mothers hoped she would become an champion for parental flexibility. That hope was crushed in February 2013 when she famously issued a telecommuting ban for all Yahoo (YHOO) employees. All employees were required to begin working in the office full-time or quit, including those who worked from home full-time (such as customer service workers), as well as corporate types who had negotiated one or two days a week from home upon taking their positions.

Mayer later said that the move was simply about doing what was right for Yahoo at the time, arguing that the change has increased collaboration at the company. That may be, but there’s no denying that the decision ruffled a lot of feathers–and hurt the precarious work-life balance of some Yahoo employees.

Hubert Joly, CEO Best Buy

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly celebrates the opening of the Samsung Experience Shop at Best Buy Union Square on April 24, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Samsung)
Photograph by Neilson Barnard — Getty Images for Samsung

Best Buy was celebrated as a leader among flexible workplaces when it launched its Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) in 2006, which allowed employees to work anytime and from anywhere as long as they got the job done. But in early 2013, new CEO Hubert Joly pulled the plug on ROWE, requiring most employees to work a standard 40-hour workweek in company offices.

Best Buy (BBY) employees instantly lost the flexibility to which they’d grown accustomed, but leaders insisted the change was necessary to fix the struggling retailer. “A leader has to pick the right style of leadership for each employee, and it is not one-size-fits-all, as the ROWE program would have suggested,” Joly wrote in a column published in the Minneapolis StarTribune. Two years later, it’s hard to argue with the business results: Best Buy has now reported two consecutive quarters of growth in U.S. same-store sales for the first time in nearly five years.

Patrick Fahey, CEO of Frontier Financial Corp.

When John Dickson, president of Everett, Wash.-based Frontier Financial Corp., refused to cancel a spring break trip to Hawaii with his wife and children, he was fired by the bank’s CEO. Although the bank was under great duress—it had recently been warned by federal regulators to secure more assets or face a forced sale, Dickson said he had earned the vacation and was committed to being available via phone and email throughout the trip.

“It’s a very critical time for the bank and we have a lot of efforts under way with a last ditch here to try and raise some capital,” CEO Patrick Fahey told the New York Post. “We have staff in great anxiety, as you might imagine. I felt, and feel, very strongly it was not an appropriate time for either he or I to abandon the ship.”

Frontier Financial Corp. has since been seized by regulators and sold.


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