In the annals of corporate swearing, few executives rival the fictional heavy played by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenn Ross, a profanity machine that would make a Marine blush.
In real life, however, the filthy-mouth-of-the-week award goes to Scotts Miracle-Gro (SMG) Chief Executive Officer Jim Hagedorn, whose salty language led to a reprimand from the board of the Ohio lawn-care company. “While I have a tendency to use colorful language, I recognize my comments in this case were inappropriate and I apologize,” Hagedorn said in a statement filed on June 3 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “I, along with the rest of our board members, consider the matter resolved and I have made a personal commitment to prevent a future recurrence.”
Hagedorn, Scotts Miracle-Gro’s CEO since 2001, is traveling this week and was not available to comment, company spokesman Jim King says. “It was an incident that arose and [directors] dealt with it,” King says, declining to repeat what Hagedorn said, to whom, and under what circumstances. Wrists have been slapped.
There have been other notable executive cursers. Former Yahoo! (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz was infamously coarse; she has said she regrets having said “the F-word” so often, although she also said that such emphatic displays “show passion and commitment.” Earlier this year, Emerson Electric (EMR) CEO David Farr made headlines when he cursed at an audience of analysts at a company event. “We are not a one-trick pony,” Farr said, according to a Wall Street Journal account. “If I see that in writing, one more goddamn time, I’m going to tear them apart.” Farr followed the outburst with an apology. Sort of. “I apologize for swearing,” he said. “You guys piss me off when you write that. You haven’t figured that out. And I’ve been training real hard the last couple of years to kick your ass”
The workplace curse is endemic; it’s not going anywhere. What’s more, it serves a purpose, say researchers from the University of East Anglia in England. There’s “annoyance swearing,” like when you mutter a stream of curses at a frozen computer screen. The other sort, “social swearing” is designed to rally the troops, showing a unified purpose to a cause. (See above, re: Carol Bartz.) “Social swearing “can serve to manifest and signal solidarity,” they write, while annoyance swearing “provides a ‘relief mechanism’ for the release of stress and tension,’” according to an article in Harvard Business Review.
For the sake of career advancement, it may be a better idea to wash your mouth with soap. A 2012 survey by CareerBuilder.com of 2,300 hiring managers and 3,800 workers found that 81 percent of the respondents said cursing at work calls an employee’s professionalism into question and 68 percent said it displays a lack of maturity. At the same time, 51 percent said they swear at the office, and a surprising one-quarter of managers said they swear at employees. Damn.