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Top 8 Ruthless CEOs and Their Actions During Mass Layoffs

Here is a list aggregating the cold-blooded company moments during the mass layoff era (is it coming to an end yet…?). These are the 8 top moments that showed just how ruthless CEOs can be – which we found out is quite

Hopefully their (or their company’s) headline-making, newsworthy stature will make them think twice when implementing heartless acts, but really, who knows. Your guess is as good as mine and what we found out during the latest round of mass layoffs: money talks. 

You know who else talks? Employees. And they were not shy about sharing (anonymously or not) just how ruthless their companies were.

So, here are the top 8 most ruthless CEOs and their actions during mass layoffs. Let’s hope this time-period of mass layoffs has come to a halt, or at least a slower pace.

1. Elon Musk and Twitter Layoffs (Because, Obviously)

He who not be named must be named first because, obviously. The top of the list for a ruthless CEO is Musk, which is likely without competition. 

After acquiring Twitter, Musk quickly laid off over half of the Twitter staff. It seems like this is where the layoff trend began, so might as well give credit where credit is due. 

One of the main reasons this layoff felt so cruel was because of its immediate nature and its chaotic communication. Countless stories of communication errors were documented from former employees, from people being locked out of systems without notice to a lack of communication from the company of if, when, and who was laid off and any information connected to it (Conger, 2023). 

Chaos is an understatement when it came to Twitter layoffs, and not short-lived either.

The whole situation can be described as a disaster zone with a hot-headed leader.

Current employees were soon after told to work long hours or leave (Conger, 2023). Encouraging.

There were (are?) also a handful of lawsuits regarding the way Twitter layoffs were handled. Surprise to.. No one. 

A non-exhaustive list of those lawsuits include layoffs without advanced notice for contract workers, targeting gender in layoffs, and discriminating against employees with disabilities (Wiessner, 2023). 

Hopefully they didn’t layoff HR with all these legal and ethical issues they had to clean up but… It sounds like they did. 

I guess that’s what you get when you’re a ruthless CEO?

2. Elon Musk Mocking an Employee with a Disability

Not to write about he who shall not be named twice, but… this needs its own section. 

Can it get worse than this? Mocking an employee and telling them they don’t actually work for you when they potentially do and having a system so disorganized no one even really knows?

When the employee requested this information from Musk on the platform Twitter itself (as there was no other way to get answers), the ruthless CEO doubts this employee’s disability status publicly and in poor form, to say the least (Zahn, 2023). 

Musk stated that the employee, “did no actual work, claimed as his excuse that he had a disability that prevented him from typing, yet was simultaneously tweeting up a storm” (Zahn, 2023). 

Utterly disgusting what this employee had to deal with.

Shameful, ruthless CEO, to say the least. Musk tops the list.

3. Crying CEO

Who could forget ‘Crying CEO’? The CEO who posted a picture of himself crying… after laying off his employees. One could say he ‘made a splash’ with his tears as his LinkedIn post took off, and for many – it did not land well…

Many shared the sentiment to let employees cry & grieve but to spare everyone your CEO tears. Wipe them away with your CEO paycheck, please, and preferably behind closed doors. Not on the workplace platform LinkedIn to rub it in to former employees and the masses for clout.  

He leaned into his showcased guilt in his post saying, “Days like today, I wish I was a business owner that was only money driven and didn’t care about who he hurt along the way… but I’m not,” he stated after layoffs (which was likely money-driven…)(Prakash & Bloomberg, 2022). 

Confusing, no? 

Other CEOs learned from his mistake apparently (or maybe they are solely money-driven), and we didn’t see any more crying CEOs in future layoffs. Thank God. 

4. Sting Concert for Microsoft Executives Night Before Layoffs

The night before laying off 10,000 employees, Microsoft executives had a private Sting concert. 

The night before. 

“Many felt that the concert’s timing was inappropriate given the circumstances” (Huff, 2023).

Yes. Yes, indeed.

Can’t really claim financial problems with that act, can you? They still did… 

The word ruthless comes to mind. Or maybe just oblivious, careless, and thoughtless. PR disaster could be another way to describe it, but Microsoft will probably be fine in the end.

Add it to the list of ruthless CEO & exec board moves. 

5. Goldman Sachs Takes Bonus-Grabbing Approach

Goldman Sachs employees were “laid off a week before bonuses, even after glowing annual reviews”…(Mann, 2023). Ouch. 

To be expecting that bonus money (as many employees do) and then to have it be ripped away along with your job.

To take it a step further, apparently they also misled employees about the layoffs. Goldman Sachs was called out for asking staff “to attend “phony” business meetings where they were told they’d been laid off” (Mann, 2023).

Add it to the list of ways not to fire / layoff your people…

And there’s more.

Sachs planned to let another 800 employees go by apparently smoking them out, using bonuses again as leverage in their favor: “The forthcoming bonuses are expected to be “so skimpy that disgusted recipients will pack up and leave,” the sources told the Post”… (Hart, 2023). 

Another ruthless CEO & company move for the books. 

ruthless CEOs mass layoffs

6. Facebook Takes Subpar Review Approach

Meta gave 7,000 workers subpar reviews. Cute, Meta. This is after they already cut 11,000 employees in a previous round of mass layoffs (Morris, 2023). 

Meta appeared to be trying to “justify” a layoff, but they didn’t skirt around being ruthless. Wear your own (talented) personnel down so they have low self esteem and question their work so they’ll maybe leave voluntarily.

Seems like a fabricated narrative approach to layoffs and letting people go.

Creative, Meta. How innovative. 

Or maybe just… ruthless. 

7. CEO Tells Employees to ‘Leave Pity City’

“Leave pity city,” the CEO tells employees not receiving bonuses, after receiving a $1.2 million bonus the previous year on top of a $4.9 million salary (New Zealand Herald, 2023). 

Probably don’t do that…

Probably don’t do that in general, but also when prices for consumers are sky-high with inflation and other societal constraints, when you as the CEO are taking home millions.

The CEO of “furniture giant, MillerKnoll” said this during a “pep talk” to employees after receiving complaints over canceling employee bonuses because of company financial woes (New Zealand Herald, 2023). 

Not really a motivating pep talk. 

Another lesson in what not to do when withholding employee bonuses.

Can we get a little empathy around here instead of ridicule? 

Add it to the list of ruthless CEOs and their poorly calculated actions. 

8. 20-Year Google Employee Laid Off in an Email

Google employee rightfully feels slighted after dedicating a couple of decades to Google without so much as an impersonal email telling him he’s locked out and no longer employed.

“Google software engineer says it was a ‘slap in the face’ to find out he was laid off via email after 20 years at the company” (Dean, 2023). 

Not even a video call or personal touch. Not even the opportunity to say goodbye to dear colleagues or just to have someone face him personally to share the news like a human being.

This is how 12,000 of Google’s employees figured out they were unemployed. 

Joslin, the person who posted on LinkedIn what a ruthless way to be let go said, “Being let go via a transactional email without any acknowledgement of your personal time or impact on the company is a difficult way to go out,” (Dean, 2023). 

Companies have regularly been taking heartless approaches of locking employees out of systems, buildings, you name it. 

It appears that maintaining the dignity of (former) employees is last on the priority list for companies. Ruthless.

Ruthless CEOs mass layoffs

Non-Ruthless CEO Honorable Mention: CEO Took 40% Pay Cut

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, requested and received a 40% pay cut which appeared to be in an effort to dodge mass layoffs, which was a huge divergence from so many of his tech peers (CNBC, Leswing,  2023). 

This is what we’re talking about. Reduce exorbitant CEO pay before cutting employees. With the 40% reduction Cook requested, he now only receives $49 million for the year (CNBC, Leswing,  2023). 

Ok, maybe he isn’t quite the hero we thought, but still. Can we make this a norm? 

Apple still has not conducted layoffs as of this posting. This is absolutely the humane thing to do. 

Reduce the income of one instead of causing hardship to many. Isn’t that obvious? Is that so hard?

Companies are showing us their character. Take note. 

What Can We Learn From Ruthless CEOs?

So… what can we learn from this? What lessons can we, the little people, glean from ruthless CEOs and companies?

If there’s one thing, it’s to be loyal to yourself – whatever that means for you. 

Maybe it means speaking up more, maybe it means asking to be on a specific project, maybe it means looking for a job you enjoy, maybe it means leaving at 4pm instead of 6pm, maybe it means taking all your vacation days, maybe it means advocating for yourself, maybe it means not putting up with bs. 

Whatever it means for you, do that. 

And just because CEOs and companies can be ruthless, other work relationships can be meaningful and help you get to the places you want to go. All is not lost or in vain.

Do you work for a ruthless CEO? Share in the comments – let’s clearly outline what not to do if you’re a CEO, or at least what not to do if you don’t want to make headlines and go down in history as the company villain. 

Want to read more about mass layoffs? Check out the article: “Mass Layoffs: The History & Why It’s Not “Just Business”


*NYTimes: “In latest round of job cuts, Twitter is said to lay off at least 200 employees” (2023). (Kate Conger)


*ABC News: “Elon Musk publicly mocks laid-off Twitter employee with a disability. Then apologizes” (2023). Max Zahn. 

*Reuters: “Twitter again accused of legal violations during mass layoffs” (2023). Daniel Wiessner

*Fortune: “‘Crying CEO’ says he loves his employees – even those he laid off” (Prakash & Bloomberg, 2022)

*Entrepreneur: “Sting concert for Microsoft execs preceded layoff of 10,000 employees” (Huff, 2023)

*Business Insider: “Some Goldman Sachs bankers were laid off after being told to attend meetings under ‘false pretenses,’ report says” (Business Insider, 2023) Author: Jyoti Mann

*Business Insider: Inside Goldman Sachs’ layoffs: Every 10 minutes (Business Insider, 2023)

*Article: “Goldman Sachs plans to nudge out an additional 800 staffers by skimping on bonuses after already laying off more than 3,000 employees, report says” (Business Insider, 2023) Author: Jordan Hart

*Fortune: “Meta just gave thousands of employees poor performance reviews that could clear the way for more layoffs during its ‘Year of Efficiency;” (Morris, 2023). 

*New Zealand Herald: “CEO tells employees to leave pity city after not receiving bonuses” (2023).

*Business Insider: “A Google software engineer says it was a ‘slap in the face’ to find out he was laid off via email after 20 years at the company” (Dean, 2023). 

Article: “Apple CEO Tim Cook requests and receives a 40% pay cut after shareholder vote” (CNBC, 2023) Author: Kif Leswing

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