Is What’s Good For Bob Pittman Good For Meg Whitman? CEO Annoucements Compared

12 Oct

CEO Announcements are frequent. But is this news is covered differently depending on whether the new CEO is male or female?

Let’s compare two recent announcements: Meg Whitman and Bob Pittman.

I want to point out that this should in no way be seen as a business analysis of any of the companies mentioned. My experience with eBay is limited to buying and selling a few things (I do have an excellent rating, which I am quite proud of). As for ClearChannel, I prefer to listen to satellite radio via SiriusXM, mostly because of Howard Stern. (OK, entirely because of Howard Stern. But the other stations are good too.)

I was struck by what I felt was a largely negative media reaction to the Whitman announcement, and the largely positive notices Pittman received. Also, although this is a blog post and not a scientific study, I will try to be somewhat fair and compare coverage from the same news outlet, The New York Times.

Right before Whitman was announced as the new head of HP, the Times ran an article that begins with the following: As speculation swirled Wednesday that Meg Whitman might be brought in to save the troubled Hewlett-Packard, the tech world rendered a verdict: You have got to be kidding.

Guess you can only go up from there, right?

For some deeper analysis, let’s look at an article published the following day. The author opens by wondering “what kind of leader [Whitman] will be.” The writer lauds her for growing eBay “from a 30-employee minnow of a company to a 15,000-employee whale with $8 billion in annual revenue.” Yeah, that sounds like she did a nice job.

It then goes on to praise Whitman for her acquisition of PayPal, and bash her for buying Skype, claiming that a subsequent sale to a private investor group has “the ignominy of what Silicon Valley denizens called one of the worst deals of all time.”

Now let’s look at this Times article about Robert Pittman being named the new CEO of ClearChannel.

Pittman has a long career in the media business, including being a major player in the disastrous AOL Time Warner merger. Here is what the Times piece says about his role in that deal: [Pittman] became the chief operating officer of the newly merged AOL Time Warner in 2001, but left the next year.

No “that deal is considered one of the biggest failures in the history of failure.” Not even “the two companies were eventually split up, putting them back where they started.”

Regardless of whether you think there is any difference between these two CEO announcements, I think it is fair to say that the AOL Time Warner merger was a far bigger disaster than eBay’s acquisition of Skype. If I were writing about Pittman, I would feel a need to mention his involvement with AOL beyond simply stating that he was the CEO…and then he wasn’t.

Again, I want to make something very clear: this is not in any way a judgment of the merits of either company or their new CEOs. But it seems to me that in this case, a female leader is being viewed through a different lens than a male one.

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