CEO Gaffe of the Week: Zynga


This year, I introduced a weekly series called "CEO Gaffe of the Week." Having come across more than a handful of questionable executive decisions last year when compiling my list of the worst CEOs of 2011, I thought it could be a learning experience for all of us if I pointed out apparent gaffes as they occur. Trusting your investments begins with trusting the leadership at the top -- and with leaders like these on your side, sometimes you don't need enemies!

This week I want to highlight the CEO of social-gaming company Zynga (NAS: ZNGA) , Mark Pincus.

The dunce cap
Just what exactly are they putting in the water over at Zynga's San Francisco headquarters?

Zynga, the company best known for social-media games that can be accessed via Facebook (NAS: FB) , including Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Words With Friends, has been suffering from a new type of game that can best be described as "Exodus With Co-Workers." Since the summer began, Zynga has lost eight executives to resignation. They include Chief Operating Officer John Schappert, Chief Creative Officer Mike Verdu, CityVille general manager Alan Patmore, Mafia Wars 2 general manager Erik Bethke, and Vice President of mobile Ya-Bing Chu. Allan Leinwand, chief technology officer of infrastructure; Bill Mooney, who was heading up the FarmVille franchise; and Jeff Karp, its chief marketing and revenue officer, are leaving as well.

Furthermore, the question of why executives are leaving the company in droves is just as much a mystery as to who will be left! On one hand, investors are questioning whether Zynga's pitiful stock performance is to blame for the exodus or whether increased social-media and app competition from Glu Mobile (NAS: GLUU) , Electronic Arts (NYS: EA) , or Activision Blizzard could be the primary factor. Zynga has very, very few paying customers for its games, and that total shrank even further in its most recent quarter. There are plenty of better-funded or faster-growing public companies (such as Glu Mobile or EA, which is expanding its digital platform) and private companies for Zynga's execs to wind up at.

Let me also alleviate your "concerns," because many of Zynga's executives are still garnering nice severance packages complete with options for their months or few years of service -- you won't see these folks in the bread lines anytime soon.

To the corner, Mr. Pincus
It's been far too long since I've said this: But wait, there's more!

Not only has Pincus done a poor job of motivating his management team to stay on board, but he and many of his team are also being investigated for insider trading.

When Zynga's lockup period expired on May 28, allowing executives their first chance to sell shares of the company, executives jumped head-first without their parachutes out of the burning plane. Quite the metaphor, huh? It's actually quite appropriate, given that executives sold a collective 43 million shares, about $500 million worth of stock, just two months before the company's stock cratered following its second-quarter earnings report, with Pincus selling 16 million shares.

What's potentially deceptive about the selling was that Zynga's management chose a secondary offering as a way of unloading their shares, as opposed to just cashing out shares and causing the stock price to fall. So wrong on so many levels if these execs are found guilty.

Coming soon to a PC near you, "Indictment With Friends." I hear it's a real blast until you get to the ending, which is filled with a bunch of laws and reality.

Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this dubious honor? Shoot me an email and a one- or two-sentence description of why your choice deserves next week's nomination, and you just may see your suggestion in the spotlight.

Is Zynga's growth engine stalled for good, or does this innovator have a social-media platform that will revolutionize the industry? Find out for yourself by getting your copy of our latest premium research report on Zynga, and see what opportunities and pitfalls could affect the company over the long term. Complete with a full-year of updates, this report will give you the investing edge you need.

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Fool contributorSean Williamshas no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on Motley Fool CAPS under the screen nameTMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen nameTrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle@TMFUltraLong.The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Facebook and Activision Blizzard, as well as creating a synthetic long position in Activision Blizzard. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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