The Ten Worst Executive Decisions

Thanks to ZDNet for this one – the ten worst high-tech executive decisions of all time

IBM not buying DOS outright


Adam Osborne pre-announcing the Osborne Executive


HP scrapping PA-RISC


Scrapping DEC Alpha


HP buying Compaq


Launching Vista


Sacking Steve Jobs


AOL/Time Warner merger


Yahoo refusal of Microsoft's takeover offer of $47 billion


Scrapping/Resurrecting TouchPad



  1. George Simpson being appointed managing director of GEC! The worst executive decision ever in the British electronics industry.

  2. What about the decision for Ferranti to buy International Signal & Control? Somebody there didn’t perform adequate “due diligence”!

  3. One word: Itanium.

  4. Well, most aircraft at that time were made from aluminium/copper alloys, but the phenomena of work-hardening and stress concentration were less well understood then. However, some changes to construction methods were believed to have contributed to the lower-than-calculated fatigue life of the early Comet airframes. That may be a contender for “worst decisions”.

  5. Well the PA-RISC diverted HP away from being the first to offer x86 servers which was what the market wanted despite Sun, Compaq, DEC and everyone else telling the market it didn’t.
    DEC Alpha meanwhile diverted the ADA language away from supporting x86 properly.
    And what would either have become – some fraction of the performance of an ARM Cortex A8 at 10 times the power consumption :-)

  6. I thought, Mr C and RobertI, that the really catastrophic Comet decision was the choice of aluminium alloy resulting in metal fatigue and the crashes.

  7. I think that’s probably quite true [Anonymous]

  8. Well how about: GEC closing down Elliott Automation and Marconi-Elliott Microelectronics; Ferranti Semiconductor refusing to invest in CAD; Schlumberger buying Fairchild; UTC buying Mostek; Blackstone buying Freescale; KKR buying NXP; forming Temic; Japanese steel industry diversification into semiconductors; Scottish and Welsh RDA investment in foreign DRAM companies; all the investments in x86 by companies other than Intel.

  9. I’m not sure I share your faith, John, they bought an awful lot of mobility companies and screwed up the lot of them

  10. But who knows what they might have achieved, Mike?

  11. I really can’t see how scrapping two average performing RISC processors is quite on the scale of some of these other disasters.

  12. Intel selling their ARM division to Marvell? That was a bit of a numb-skull thing to do. Imagine where they’d be in mobility now if they’d just bothered to carry on….

  13. And can you also cough up a list of the worst executive semiconductor decisions?

  14. I do agree, tom75, a telling example of Arnie’s risk aversion

  15. GEC not applying for a UK cellular phone licence must rank as one the worst executive decisions of a British company. GEC had all the know-how and technology in-house: GEC Telecoms for the switches and network design, Marconi for the base station and handset design, yet they let their little rival Racal secure a licence. Racal’s Vodafone went on to be the world’s biggest mobile phone company and one of the world’s most valuable companies by market capitalisation.

  16. One could argue that sacking Steve Jobs was the best decision Apple ever made. He probably would never have become the driving force behind Apple’s rebirth without his time at NeXT and Pixar.

  17. 1. The scrapping of the TSR2 was a political decision.
    2. Frank Whittle patented the jet engine in 1930. He could not afford to renew the patent in 1935.
    3. Air-liner cabin windows were generally sguare at the time the Comet was designed.

  18. not patenting Tetris (although that was not really an executive decision)
    Somehow I feel Sony should be in there somehow, but their downfall is more a never ending series of small mistakes rather than 1 really big one.

  19. How about the scrapping of the TSR2
    The decision that made the Comet windows square
    Not to patent the jet engine

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