What Do the CEOs of T-Mobile and Ryanair, and a Former CEO of Yahoo all Have in Common?

They all dropped the F-bomb in public. And they all got away with it.

Speak-No-Evil-compressorIn fact, CNBC reports that swearing no longer appears to be such a bad move for some CEOs trying to attract publicity or emphasize a point.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary was the latest to openly curse, last week suggesting that the Irish government should tell the European Union to “f– off” when it demanded Apple pay back $14.5 billion in tax.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere isn’t averse to the odd bit of colorful language either, while former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz once famously told staff she would drop kick anyone leaking company secrets to “f–ing Mars”.

And let’s not forget that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s latest TV ad also shows her opponent Donald Trump dropping the F bomb in a speech.

“As a leader, you lead by example, and…don’t want staff who represent you swearing in the media or at clients. I think it may also set the wrong tone in the work place.”

“Using swear words adds power to certain messages, grabs attention, and for some in the population may make you cool,” Southampton Business School Professor Yehuda Baruch told CNBC.

Swearing has become particularly acceptable among the younger generation, who are exposed to frequent cursing in the media and in some genres of music.

And it also appears to be cropping up more in business circles, at least during economic downturns. A review in 2014 by Bloomberg of thousands of conference calls recorded in the previous 10 years found cursing spiked after the recession in 2009 and waned during the recovery.

The S-word was by far the most commonly used term, with 197 mentions, easily beating the F-word, with 17.

To be sure, Bloomberg’s analysis found the three CEOs who swore the most appeared to be taking steps to tone it down toward the end of the 10-year study period.

There’s still plenty people who think swearing is inappropriate, however.

“As a leader, you lead by example, and maybe you don’t want staff who represent you swearing in the media or at clients,” City University Professor Julie Logan told CNBC. “I think it may also set the wrong tone in the work place.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events