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'Worst CEO' list calls out Zynga's Pincus, Zuckerberg's 'hoodie mentality'

Pincus was fourth on the annual five-person list, with Zuckerberg and Groupon's Mason garnering dishonorable mentions

By Zach Miners, IDG News Service
January 09, 2013 05:30 PM ET

IDG News Service - Zynga's Mark Pincus made the annual "Worst CEOs" list compiled by Dartmouth College professor Sydney Finkelstein, which also nearly included Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Andrew Mason of Groupon.

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Pincus was the fourth-worst CEO of 2012, according to Finkelstein, who teaches management at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business in Hanover, New Hampshire. His assessment was based on executives' questionable corporate strategies and governance styles, among other issues. The list included five CEOs, with Zuckerberg and Mason added as two executives who "almost (but didn't)" make it into the rankings.

This is the third annual Worst CEOs ranking compiled by Finkelstein, who authored the book "Why Smart Executives Fail." The methodology behind the list combines three factors: the firms' financial performance including stock returns and cash flow; the extent to which the CEO has behaved responsibly; and strategic leadership and corporate governance.

In Pincus' case, for example, the decision to acquire OMGPOP in March of last year for US$183 million -- a move intended to boost the company's mobile platform offerings -- may have been too costly a strategy for the technology, Finkelstein said. Zynga paid four times OMGPOP's annual sales, while OMGPOP's flagship "Draw Something" game is not patented and can be easily copied, according to Finkelstein.

Zynga reported a third-quarter 2012 net loss of $52.7 million, including an impairment charge of $95.5 million related to the acquisition, compared to net income of $12.5 million in the 2011 third quarter. It also reported that average monthly unique payers dropped from 4.1 million in the second quarter of 2012 to 3 million in the third quarter "largely driven" by "Draw Something."

The professor said he is not convinced Pincus is the right person to lead the company. "You can be a tremendous entrepreneur, but it's not the same as being a great CEO," Finkelstein said in an interview.

Zynga's business model is also overly dependent on Facebook, Finkelstein said. Though Zynga's games are accessible on a variety of social networks, the majority of the firm's revenue is generated through Facebook. The company reported that 84 percent of its third-quarter revenue was generated through Facebook. Compared to the same period in 2011, revenue declined from roughly $288 million to $286 million.

Zynga spokespeople could not be immediately reached to comment on Pincus' inclusion in the list.

In terms of Facebook specifically, Zuckerberg earned his dishonorable mention on the list partly due to his "hoodie mentality," Finkelstein said.

"There is nothing wrong with the 'hacker view' of being in love with your engineers and the creators of the technology, but when it comes to running a multibillion-dollar company, you have to behave a certain way," Finkelstein said, adding that there have been times when the CEO has insulated himself and not shown the proper respect toward outside shareholders, investors and other business interests such as Google, Apple and Cisco.

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