The internet’s favorite kind of main character popped up this week: a CEO going off script. Andi Owen, CEO of furniture conglomerate MillerKnoll, went viral Tuesday with a one-minute, 20-second clip telling employees to stop worrying about whether or not they’d get bonuses and “leave pity city.”
People online were quick to tell Owen to take a trip to get-a-grip-ville, pointing out that this kind of comment feels callow coming from a high-paid exec during a time of economic instability.
Reading the room, MillerKnoll said the clip was taken out of context and the comment was meant to push employees to focus on hitting the company’s $26 million sales goal. Owen reportedly sent an apology email to staff saying, “I feel terrible that my rallying cry seemed insensitive.”
The cool CEO facade is cracking
Over the last few years, pandemic bumps and economic turbulence have forced CEOs who once spent most of their days wearing fun sneakers and delivering good news to become the big bad boss. And when being the bearer of bad news gets handled less than delicately, it tends to go viral: whether it’s a CEO laying off staff via mass Zoom meetings or posting a crying selfie about letting employees go.
If there doesn’t seem to be much empathy for C Suite blunders these days, it might be because executive pay has eclipsed worker pay over the past few decades. A July report from the AFL-CIO, the largest US federation of trade unions, found that, on average, S&P 500 CEOs made about $18.3 million, or roughly 324x the median salary of workers, in 2021.
Bottom line: Owen’s attempt to fire up employees to sell fancy chairs left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Especially since it came from someone who, according to Fortune, took home $3.9 million last fiscal year in incentive-based compensation on top of her $1.1 million salary.