Being a chief executive officer of a publicly traded company is good work if you can get it. The job comes with great benefits: power, respect, media attention, and massive paydays. Alas, it's also great work for folks who occasionally exhibit behavior reminiscent of several major psychological disorders.

Sooner or later, certain manifestations of "the crazy" can become very bad for investors' portfolios. Let's look at some arguably aberrant actions from the highest ranks of major American corporations over the years.

Narcissistic personality disorder: An inflated perception of self-importance; an extreme preoccupation with oneself

The privacy-devastating phone-hacking scandal at News Corp. (NWS) gives us our first example. When Rupert Murdoch testified on the tumult before Great Britain's Parliament, he talked about feeling "humbled." Then he pushed aside the idea that he might take personal responsibility, and showed no intention to step down from his post.

Murdoch believes he's "the best person" to fix the problems at News Corp. But wasn't he in charge when the problems occurred in the first place? Talk about an inflated sense of self-importance -- and a lack of true humility.

Antisocial personality disorder: A long pattern of manipulating, exploiting, or violating the rights of others; often criminal

Look no further than the 2008 financial crisis for sociopathic behavior among financial companies' top brass. Executives exploited the public's desires for the American dream, using lax lending standards to further an unsustainable housing.

Related trips down the foreclosure-riddled Antisocial Lane included AIG (AIG) executives' insistence on paying bonuses promised before the crisis, even after the U.S. government shelled out $170 billion to bail out the company. The public paid AIG's way out of complete failure, but these guys and gals still thought they deserved big bucks in their own bank accounts.

Goldman Sachs' (GS) list of offenses is no less lengthy. Just look up Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi's extensive writings on the company. (He coined the investment bank's "vampire squid" moniker.)

Paranoid schizophrenia: Losing touch with reality (psychosis); delusions and hearing things that aren't real

Overstock.com's (OSTK) CEO Patrick Byrne provided one of the best examples of this tendency to blame company problems or stock underperformance on unrealistic or unsubstantiated sources.

In 2005, Byrne insisted that an unholy collection of shortsellers and "miscreants" (including journalists, investigators, the SEC, etc.) led by an unnamed Sith Lord -- yes, he actually called the person a "Sith Lord" -- was attacking his company. In 2009, a Byrne-affiliated website published a database of journalists (and, in an adorable aside, all their Facebook friends -- who "likes" this?) under suspicion for the weird conspiracy.

Intermittent explosive disorder: Repeated episodes of violent, aggressive behavior out of proportion to the situation; may include angry outbursts or temper tantrums

Let's set the wayback machine to April 2001 for one of the most impressive outbursts of CEO fury ever. Before Enron's devastating failings were known, analyst Richard Grubman posed a very legitimate concern on the company's conference call: "You're the only financial institution that can't produce a balance sheet or cash flow statement with their earnings."

CEO Jeffrey Skilling's response: "You, you, you... Well, uh... thank you very much. We appreciate it... a--hole!"

Granted, it's arguable that outburst wasn't particularly "out of proportion," given what we all later found out about Enron's true financial condition. People who are doing the wrong thing probably don't enjoy exposure to anything close to critical thinking. Still, Skilling's outburst seems pretty nuts.

Kleptomania: An irresistible urge to steal items one doesn't really need

Although few CEOs have been convicted outright of theft or fraud, plenty have squandered shareholder money on unnecessary items. That may not actually be stealing, but... well, it still sounds like somebody's got slightly sticky fingers.

Remember when John Thain presided over beleaguered Merrill Lynch? His office-redecorating bill added up to a cool $1.22 million, and included such "necessities" as an $87,000 area rug, a $35,000 commode (make your own jokes here), and a very memorable $1,400 trash can -- excuse me, "waste basket."

If you want more technical CEO thievery, consider Tyco (TYC) ex-CEO Dennis Kozlowski's bizarre $2 million toga party for his wife. Tyco footed the bill for about $1 million of this extravaganza, which included toga-clad guests, gladiators, Jimmy Buffett, and an ice-sculpture replica of Michelangelo's David whose naughty bits dispensed alcohol. Crazy, right?

Curiously enough, Kozlowski and Tyco ex-CFO Mark Swartz were later convicted of grand larceny and conspiracy, falsifying business records, and breaking business law.

A sanity check for investors
This little trip down corporate America's lunatic fringe by way of the DSM is meant to be humorous and tongue-in-cheek. But for investors, assessing the stability of your stocks' leaders should be no laughing matter.

Many CEOs are among the smartest folks around. Still, let's remember the old saying about how power corrupts. Scientific studies have proved that sometimes, humans in powerful positions can't handle their roles with grace, fairness, and humility. In the psychological research field, they call this "power holding theory," which shows that high-paid and powerful people often get pretty mean. A similar lack of empathy represents a major component of some of the disorders noted above.

So give your portfolio a sanity check once in a while. If a CEO's behavior starts sounding a little too over-the-top, investors should question whether that corporate leader's really the best steward for shareholders' hard-earned money. There's nothing crazy about that.

Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned. She is not a licensed mental health care professional.


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Larry

THe FBI expert on psychopaths has diagnosed most corporations are such in light of the DSM.

July 22 2011 at 11:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Artie

As with any occupation or profession, there are going to be good guys and bad guys. A lot of bad guy CEOs have deservingly gotten a lot of bad press and totally deserve a swift kick in the ass if not full blown prison terms for being unconscionable greedy bastards, (if not outright criminals) particularly at those places like Enron, Tyco and at AIG and with most of the Wall Street banking "wise guys." However, I can't believe that ALL CEO's are unconscionable, power hungry greedy scum bags. That said, it definitely takes a certain type of personality to take on those CEO jobs. I think its got to be tough to be a CEO and a nice guy at the same time with all the responsiblitlty they have.That said, many are way over paid and get great compensation deals and bonuses and golden parachutes for doing a terrible job. Even if you suck at your CEO job and you run your company into the ground, you still get to walk with millions....not too shabby..

July 22 2011 at 10:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cdsj

Lots of comments here from those who are jealous and lack the intellect and leadership skills to be a CEO. The stocks of companies with good CEO's finance the job market and provide the tax revenue our government requires of us. Insult them, punish them at your own peril... they can take their jobs and their tax revenue to a country where there contribution to a country's economy is recognized and appreciated.. Take a lesson from my dog... she knows better than to bite the hand that feeds her.

July 22 2011 at 11:39 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
transpower

The real narcissists are those in Big Government and Big Media, not in business. The Democrat Party has been in serious violation of the U.S. Constitution since at least 1900; I wish the entire Party would move to Cuba or Greece--they'd be much happier there....and we would be much happier here.

July 22 2011 at 11:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cherryhood

Excellent article. The world is run by sociopath psychopaths. No empathy, feelings, hurting others, etc. Take a look at there foreheads. Watch there eyes twitch trying figure you out.

July 22 2011 at 9:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
george22552

I worked as a minor clerk for Merrill Lynch when I was only 19 (40 yrs. ago, ok?) What floored me was the attitude of some of the stock brokers back then. One A.E. said to me "I don't care what you think of me just give me the money !" Another apparently successful broker was despised by all the others apparently because he WAS successful ! Finally, I got an obscure ride home one night from another broker. Now, the workday is over, the market is closed but this guy is still at "work" when he says out loud - to himself I assumed - "As long as the market opens up on the plus side tomorrow". . .etc. THAT statement demonstrated to me how some brokers get concerned over certain issues they have no control over - none ! It's like the mailman saying : "As long as it doesen't rain on Tuesday. . . ." It confirmed for me to stay away from Wall St. as a profession. I wasn't planning on it to begin with since I was going to college at night and eventually got my B.A. in Special Education and taught for 20 yrs. till surgery put me in "disability city" ! But - my "lesson" here - choose a vocation that won't drive you nuts because you're "married" to that vocation until the day you retire !

July 22 2011 at 8:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
klineomaha

Sounds about right to me!

July 22 2011 at 5:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
edlcthompson

Hey this sound like our President, is this not what Obama is doing to others, hmmmmm

July 22 2011 at 1:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
crazy ray

I was offered the chance to be a CEO. My answer, was no way in hell. Now I'm happy, out of the business, and living on investments. I can do what I want and I don't have to make my bones by stacking up the bodies of co workers.

July 22 2011 at 12:32 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Condley

While you can site examples of psycotic behavior in some CEO's, this is not the norm. Most CEO's are very nice people who have accepted responsibility during their rise to the top. Being a CEO is no easy job. Knowing that you hold the fate of thousands of employees, and their families, who are counting on you to make the correct deisions for their livelyhood is a daunting responsibility. It's easy to arm chair quarterback the CEO's decisions after the fact, but it is another thing entirely when you have to make the decision in the first place. And often the decisions are made on incomlete facts and data without the benefit of time. While the CEO compensation can be great, so can the personal weight of making a wrong decision. The grass is not always greener my friends.

July 21 2011 at 10:50 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Condley's comment
stag01987

I would like to think that's true, but today's average American CEO and board of dictators seem to have the attitude that most of their employees are just a necessary liability instead of their greatest assets, compared to their Japanese counterparts. When an American corporation is losing money, how often do you see shared sacrifice from the corporate management who's supposed to be responsible? None. They love to preach about teamwork, but when the chips are down, all of that goes out the window. They and their compensation boards still justify massive pay increases and bonuses for themselves after they have cut pay, hours, and benefits for everyone else and put so many of their people in the unemployment line. Much of this has been happening over the past 30 years even when they are very profitable. I'm sure there's a few goodhearted CEO's out there, but the public perception that American corporate level management is extremely greedy is no fluke. They earned that public ridicule.

July 22 2011 at 9:40 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply