CEO Gaffe of the Week: Google, R. R. Donnelley, and CNBC


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'm not mincing words and we're going to highlight the CEO of Google (NAS: GOOG) Larry Page, the CEO of R. R. Donnelley (NAS: RRD) , Thomas Quinlan III, and the president and CEO of television network CNBC, Mark Hoffman.

The dunce caps
OK, let's just get all the jokes out now: Shareholders are simply Google-plexed by what happened. Shareholders have been Bam-Googled. Let's call this Google-Gate 2012!

Thursday will go down as a day to remember for Google shareholders in that not-so-great way. Due to a glitch in some form or another, one of Google's printing businesses, R. R. Donnelley, released Google's third-quarter earnings report not at the designated after-hours time, but about four hours too early during normal trading hours. The calamity that ensued was unreal, as Google shares plummeted as much as $79.49 per share and CNBC immediately devoted their entire coverage for hours on end to the Google pre-report.

The reason for the drop had to do with Google missing by a mile on both the top and bottom lines due to a slowdown in advertising, a fourth consecutive cost-per-click decline, and a whopping $151 million loss from its Motorola Mobility purchase. Pretty much every concern I've listed over the past month or so regarding Google came to light during this report. Tablet sales are hurting Google's ad margins. No defined mobile ad platform is in place yet, allowing small-time players like Velti (NAS: VELT) and Millennial Media (NYS: MM) to easily gain market share. Additionally, the release of Apple's (NAS: AAPL) iPhone 5 could draw users away from Android OS devices in the foreseeable future.

Now let's have some fun wagging our fingers at each individual CEO

To the corner, all of you...
With regard to Google's Larry Page, I give a wag of my finger primarily at his lack of explanation as to why its cost-per-click advertising business keeps slowing. The early release of today's earnings report wasn't much within his control, so he gets a pass on that aspect.

For Thomas Quinlan III, I wag my finger for not double, triple, and quadruple-checking your release times. How difficult is it to set up a check system to ensure that information is disseminated when it's expected? Between Disney and Microsoft, this is the third-time we've seen a big company's earnings release flubbed since 2010.

But, I'm saving my biggest finger wag to CNBC, which completely blew the entire situation out of proportion. I freely admit to watching CNBC on occasion to keep up on the day's top stories, but this was one of the worst-handled events I've ever witnessed. Shortly after the earnings pre-release, CNBC had former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt on to grill him about the potential legal implications of the filings. At this point, my jaw hit the floor and my brain hit a standstill. Whether the earnings release came before or after the market doesn't make the earnings miss any less of a miss. In essence, Google's stock was going to fall either way -- end of story. But it wasn't the end of the story for CNBC, which dragged its coverage of the miscue on for hours!

Instead of focusing on whose fat finger hit the send button, can we instead focus on why Google's earnings once again failed to live up to expectations? Thumbs down all around!

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.

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Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Apple, and Disney, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Apple and a synthetic covered call position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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