‘Famous Last Words’ From Top CEOs, Right Before Their Companies Were Massacred

Sometimes it’s hard to see trouble when you’re close to it. That’s likely what happened to some of the country’s top CEOs. They let their company’s success blind them to the possibility that an underdog could take them down.

There are plenty of examples of top executives were wrong when it came to predicting the survival of new companies or technologies. Some of those executives were not only wrong, but also unknowingly on the cusp of the downfall of their own companies.

Here are some “famous last words” from top CEOS right before their companies were massacred. We’ll also share some quotes from executives who predicted a company or technology failure but were wrong.

“PC guys are not going to just figure this out.”

Ed Colligan, President and CEO of Palm, Inc

He went the way of the Palm Pilot. | David Paul Morris/Getty Images

This is what Ed Colligan, former CEO of Palm, said back in 2006 when Apple introduced the iPhone and iPod. Apparently, he didn’t believe Apple could have any lasting impact on the mobile phone market. According to Colligan, the “PC guys” had no idea how to make anything of value beyond desktop computers.

During a discussion with New York Times correspondent John Markoff at a Churchill Club breakfast meeting, Colligan made this statement: “We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in,” reported Sarah Jane Tribble and Dean Takahashi for The San Jose Mercury News.

Colligan was wrong. Palm Inc. went out of business in 2010. It was later purchased by Hewlett Packard and then TCL.

Next: This CEO had no idea what was coming.

“Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition.”

Blockbuster store

Yeah. He got that one very wrong. | Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes wasn’t all that concerned about Netflix back in 2008. In an interview with The Motley Fool, he predicted Wal-Mart and Apple would be more of a concern for Blockbuster. However, his prediction wasn’t correct. Netflix ended up crushing the video rental business. Blockbuster shut down all of its stores in 2013.

Next: This CEO was very wrong.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

desktop computer from the 1970s

He was very wrong about that. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, made this statement back in 1977 during the World Future Society meeting in Boston. Olsen thought Americans would not be open to having computers run every aspect of their lives, such as managing temperature control, helping with meal prep, and essentially running one’s household, explained Edgar H. Schein in the book DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation. However, as we have seen, many rely on computers to manage several aspects of their household, business, personal life, and even health.

Olsen said the personal computer would “fall flat on its face in business,” reports The New York Times. Digital Equipment Corporation, which was later acquired by Compaq for $9.6 billion, went out of business in 1998.

Next: This “house of cards” is quite sturdy.

“Google’s not a real company. It’s a house of cards.”

He thought it was going to fall apart. | Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, didn’t take Google seriously. He thought Google was a fake company and a house of cards ready to tumble down at any moment. Tech Crunch reports Ballmer expressed his disdain for the company after one of his employees (Google’s former Engineering Director Mark Lucovsky) left Microsoft to take a job over at Google. Years later, this house of cards seems to be pretty sturdy.

Next: This online retailer shocked everyone.

“Amazon.com is a very interesting retail concept but wait till you see what Wal-Mart is gearing up to do.”

Louis V. Gerstner Jr. answers questions at a news

The IBM chairman underestimated Amazon. | Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

These were the words of Louis V. Gerstner Jr., former IBM Chairman. Amazon turned out to be more than just a very interesting concept. The online retailer became a threat to many brick-and-mortar stores over the years. One example is Amazon’s $13.7 billion deal to purchase Whole Foods. There have also been whisperings about the possibility of the retailer taking over Nordstrom, Express Scripts, Kohl’s, and Nike.

Next: This CEO called this company a “virus.”

“Apple is like a mutant virus, escaping from the traditional structure of the PC industry, but the industry will still eventually build up immunity, thus further blocking this trend…”

Stan Shih, founder of Taiwan's Acer Inc., speaks during a press conference

That didn’t go as planned. | Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images

During an Acer design competition, Stan Shih, president of Acer, said Apple’s attempt to break into the computer industry was in vain and that the company wouldn’t succeed. Said Shih:

Apple is like a mutant virus, escaping from the traditional structure of the PC industry, but the industry will still eventually build up immunity, thus further blocking this trend, and we believe the size of the non-Apple camp will exceed Apple’s, because this is how the industry normally evolves.

Apparently, the Apple trend was not blocked, and Apple’s “mutant virus” spread.

Next: It turns out, customers did want this service.

“Our guests don’t want the Airbnb feel and scent.”

Four Seasons Hotel sign in Moscow, Russia

Tell that to those renting out their luxury apartments. | prescott09/iStock/Getty Images

During a 2014 interview with Fast Company, Christopher Norton, former executive vice president of global product and operations (and then later president and CEO) of Four Seasons, didn’t seem to have much faith in Airbnb. However, it looks like lots of people want Airbnb’s “feel and scent.” Airbnb sources predict the company will earn as much as $3.5 billion by 2020 (before interest, taxes and depreciation) according to Fortune.

Next: He thought this product was doomed.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.”

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds up the new iPhone

Years later and people are still reading. | David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Not everyone was a fan of Amazon’s Kindle. The late Steve Jobs predicted Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader would fail. He thought the Kindle didn’t have a chance because, in his opinion, people don’t read. However, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos saw a future in ebooks. Said Jobs in a New York Times interview:  

It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.

Next: He thought this technology was “disposable.”

“One of the biggest risks today in our gaming industry are these inexpensive [mobile] games that are candidly disposable from a consumer standpoint.”

Reggie Fils-Aime at the Nintendo Switch Preview Event on January 13, 2017 in New York City.

Mobile games have been a huge hit. | Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Nintendo of Americ

In 2011, Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime said mobile gaming wouldn’t catch on. However, mobile gaming became quite a hit. Most smartphones have at least one or two mobile game apps. In fact, the Angry Birds game became so popular that a movie was based on it. Mobile games have found fans among a wide audience.

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