Cue the Boring CEO!

Three bosses, three slots on CNBC, three reviews: Who’s stiff, who’s fake, who nails it.

On any given weekday, CEOs troop into TV studios around the country for a few minutes of airtime on CNBC. Why? To pump the stock! Or maybe just because it’s cool to be seen with Bill and Sue on Power Lunch. Never discount the ego thing. But television is an unforgiving medium: It rewards directness and a sense of human spark — and more than that, the ability to convincingly (and compactly) tell a story. One day’s viewing is enough to reveal that not every big-name exec is blessed with those skills.


9:05 a.m. Daniel Lynch, CEO of ImClone Systems Inc., pops in from New Orleans. Good news! A new study shows that ImClone’s Erbitux increases survival of patients with head and neck cancer, from 28 months to 54. Lynch delivers this information articulately enough — but he looks like a terrified puppy.

Lynch eventually relaxes a bit, but he never looks very comfortable — until asked about Sam Waksal, ImClone’s founder, now in a Pennsylvania prison for stock fraud. Had Lynch heard from Waksal lately? “The key,” Lynch replied, “is that . . . everybody is very happy we got Erbitux approved, that we are able to help patients benefit from it, and we are able to move the company forward.” End of story. Cue a very genuine smile.
Result: Stock price up 12.3%

12:20 p.m. Enter Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, live from the D: All Things Digital conference in San Diego. Ye gods! Ivan is dull! Is he a cardboard cutout? Is a ventriloquist making his lips move? Even his black suit is boring.

Verizon is one of the leading providers of communications services in America, with about $68 billion in annual revenue. But Seidenberg is no Great Communicator. With not a hint of expression, Seidenberg shares his important tidings: “We passed a milestone over the weekend. We signed our fortieth millionth [sic] customer in wireless. We are very excited about it.” Gee, Ivan. Party all the time.
Result: Stock price up 1.4%

1:40 p.m. Finally, a guy who knows what to do with four minutes on the tube. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and Pixar Studios, shows up in his trademark black T-shirt, waves his arms around wildly, and uses words like “cool” and “wonderful.”

Jobs is pitching Apple’s new wireless networking product, the AirPort Express. As long as the conversation sticks to AirPort, which he’s obviously prepped for, Jobs is expressive and excited. He makes you want to go out and buy one, now.


But when the questions move to other subjects, Jobs falters. For one thing, he keeps looking away from the camera. He does this when asked about possible acquisitions. (“We’ve never seen anything where there’s a really great fit,” he says.) And again, when asked if Pixar might ever team up with Disney. (“We try to stay flexible.”) Thing is, Jobs’s gaffes make him look unsure of himself — but they also make him more human, a regular guy who just wants to talk about his toys. Did his PR handlers think that up?
Result: Stock price up 3.6%