In the business world, regardless of industry, professional behavior ensures smooth operations and a respectful work environment. Then again, sometimes the urge to start throwing chairs is hard to resist.

In any company, in moments of high stress, emotions can run high and people can speak without thinking. Usually, nothing too bad happens, but occasionally the results can be spectacularly (and entertainingly) awful.

Standard Oil

Back in the 1920s, the automobile was transforming both business and culture. Engineers had ironed out nearly all the kinks in the design, including the annoying “knocking” caused by untreated gas. Their solution? In 1919, engineers realized that tetraethyl lead made engines run more smoothly and began adding it to fuel. Just one tiny problem: lead is poisonous. Really, really poisonous.

But what’s a bit of poison when there’s money to be made? In October 1924, workers at the Standard Oil plant in New Jersey started collapsing, having convulsions, and, eventually, dying from lead poisoning. Standard Oil dismissed this, telling the New York Times that “These men probably went insane because they worked too hard.” However, suspicions about TEL’s toxicity refused to go away.

Eventually, TEL’s inventor Thomas Midgely, Jr. had had enough. Calling a press conference, he proceeded to wash his hands in a bowl of the substance, and inhaled the vapor, bragging “I’m not taking any chance whatever.”

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Shortly after this stunt, Midgely was forced to take a leave of absence from work — due to lead poisoning symptoms. He also went on to invent chlorofluorocarbons (the chemical responsible for nearly destroying the ozone layer a few years back), and then tragically died after contracting polio at age 51.

Morbidly, it was the bed that he invented after contracting polio, designed to assist his caretakers in getting him out of bed through a complex system of ropes and pulleys, that ended up strangling him to death.

Ratners

Ill-judged words about a company’s product from the people who supposedly know it best can have a dire effect on a company’s standing in the market. Gerald Ratner, a British businessman, first made his name by building up a jewelry empire in the 80s. While addressing the 1991 Institute of Directors conference, he gave insights into a key piece of Ratners Group’s (now Signet Group) business strategy:

People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?” I say, “because it’s total crap.”

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This ill-considered remark promptly wiped £500 million off the company’s value and lost Ratner his place on the board of directors. He later blamed the media’s gleefully vicious response to his joking comment for its huge fallout, which might be an even bigger load of crap than his products allegedly were.

Facebook

Ratner poked fun at his customers live on stage, but disdain towards your market has a way of always coming to light — even if you thought they were safely in the past. Nowadays, Mark Zuckerberg has the progressive, philanthropic public persona, making him the millennial version of Bill Gates. But Facebook’s early days, defined by notorious frat-boy culture, was an entirely different story.

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In 2010 Silicon Alley Insider got their hands on some damning IMs a 19 year old Zuck sent a friend shortly after launching the site, describing their customer base in rather unflattering terms:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don’t know why.

Zuck: They “trust me”

Zuck: Dumb fucks.

Facebook took a while to respond, eventually stating:

We’re not going to debate claims from anonymous sources or dated allegations that attempt to characterize Mark’s and Facebook’s views towards privacy.

While everybody said dumb things at college, Zuckerberg’s bad attitude still gives a bad impression over a decade later.

Tinder

Internet dating has always had a bit of a skeezy reputation: for women, making a profile can often be tantamount to a general invitation to be bombarded by unsolicited and inappropriate advances. Tinder aimed to disrupt the standard by claiming to have a new, female friendly approach: users can only message people who have already shown interest in them. Early results were good, and the app boasted a 45% female user base.

However, their pro-women persona was shown to be in name only when co-founder Whitney Wolfe launched a sexual harassment suit against the company, supported by copious records of threatening and lascivious texts sent by co-founder Justin Mateen and CEO Sean Rad.

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After settling for a $1m payout, Wolfe has been working on her own dating app Bumble, which she hopes will finally achieve the goal of providing a safe, enjoyable online dating environment for everyone.

If there’s a common thread to all of these, it’s the fact that even the most high-functioning people are capable of being complete assholes. The solution might be to get rid of the people — it’s hypothesized that as artificial intelligence is improved, business will need fewer and fewer humans in their ranks.

Then again, anyone who’s used a computer knows that they can break and mess up in quite imaginative ways. Gerald Ratner and Mark Zuckerberg might be great at insulting their customers, but judging by how quickly Microsoft’s Tay devolved into a sex-crazed Nazi, AI bosses of the future might make them look tame by comparison.

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