The Simple, Painful Lesson of KB Home’s Kathy Griffin Disaster

All CEOs need to remember is that the world has changed, and it’s all on the record now — how they talk to employees, cab drivers, waiters — and especially Kathy Griffin’s boyfriend.
Kathy Griffin, Kathy Griffin, Kathy Griffin.

Yes, Jeff Mezger should have known better. In case you’ve possibly missed it, the high-performance CEO of KB Home had his bonus cut by his board and his reputation blasted after he unleashed on neighbor Kathy Griffin’s boyfriend.

When he woke this morning, his face was splashed across The Journal, his epithet–laden rant was ringing the advertising till at HuffPo nonstop. His voice was ugly, mean, raw — and apparently out of character. No matter. It will do lasting damage. The 62% jump in stock price KB experienced in the last year under his leadership? An asterisk, at best, despite besting rivals like Lennar and DR Horton by orders of magnitude. His bonus, potentially a million or more? Slashed.

So what’s the lesson here? Other than not living next to Kathy Griffin and her boyfriend (who come across as fairly unhip and unforgiving for Hollywood types, especially when Griffin’s most recent claim to fame is being photographed with a decapitated head of the President) it’s this: don’t do it.

Whatever the cause, whoever is at fault, Mezger loses. In this digital age, that one eruption will trail him. Kathy Griffin. It’ll be the first thing that comes up when he’s Googled, likely for years. Kathy Griffin. And no one will remember anything but the headline (ie, CNN Money: “CEO’s bonus cut 25% for his anti-gay, sexist tirade at Kathy Griffin”) Kathy Griffin will follow his family. Kathy Griffin will be in his obituary. Kathy Griffin. Kathy Griffin. Kathy Griffin.


Which takes us to the takeaway: Well before the rise of social media, and just at the dawn of the Internet, an old editor told me simply, “before you say anything or write anything, just imagine how it will look on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.”

To make that useful advice easier and more memorable, let’s just shrink it down to two words: Kathy Griffin.

In this day and age, we’re all public figures — especially CEOs — even if we don’t feel like it. Yes we all should strive to be calm and respectful of everyone, at all times. No, none of us are, never have been, never will be. The difference now is that with just a single slip, we can be transformed and categorized by our absolute worst moment. Everyone makes mistakes, but today your mistakes — whether a shouting match with your annoying neighbor or a bona fide professional transgression (see Kalanick, Travis) — travel the world in a millisecond and live forever after in the ether.

So the next time you’re about to snap, to unleash that anger, take a deep breath and repeat after me: Kathy Griffin, Kathy Griffin, Kathy Griffin, Kathy Griffin.

That should do it.


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