5 Totally CRAZY CEOs Who Valued Humanity Over Profits
We tend to think that every rich CEO who isn't Elon Musk or Bruce Wayne is a smirking sociopath who orders layoffs while floating nude in a pool filled with champagne. So, when they do come through and help humanity, it's worth pointing out. Who knows, maybe it'll shame the others into doing the same:
The Heads Of Volvo Refused To Accept Money For The Invention Of The Seatbelt
If you've ever gotten into a car accident and not had your body ripped in half just above the genitals, take a moment to thank Volvo.
Cars used to be a luxury item that didn't go faster than a well-motivated horse, so a simple lap belt was sufficient to keep drivers safe in a bruising 10-mile-per-hour collision. But, as cars sped up, lap belts started contributing to injuries instead of preventing them. One of those who died was a relative of Volvo president Gunnar Engellau, who decided that was some bullshit.
In the late 1950s, he hired an engineer named Nils Bohlin to make cars safer -- not just their cars, but all cars. Recognizing the need for a device that absorbed force across both the chest and waist, Bohlin developed the three point seatbelt that's in essentially every modern vehicle more complex than a bumper car.
Now, this put Engellau's company in a powerful position; they could have made rival car executives get on their knees and beg for the privilege to pay millions for access to this new technology, or they could have just refused to share the patent and instead run with a new marketing slogan like, "Volvo: The Only Car That Won't Splatter Your Brains Across The Goddamn Sidewalk."
Instead, Volvo allowed anyone to use their new patent for free because, while they wanted to make money, they drew the line at letting other human beings die just because they preferred to drive a rival automobile. And they weren't begrudgingly getting ahead of the government inevitably forcing them to share in the name of public interest -- the company sent Bohlin abroad to promote the use of his new belt.
Three point seatbelts became standard within five years. It's estimated that Bohlin's invention saved over a million lives, it's considered one of humanity's most important patents due to Volvo's decision to leave it open, and Bohlin received letters from thankful car crash survivors until the day he died. So the next time you make fun of your friend for driving a soccer mom Volvo, maybe ease up on them just a little bit.
The Inventor Of A Revolutionary Medical Device Drove All Night To Save One Guy
33-year-old Jon Sacker was born with cystic fibrosis, which frequently results in a painful, mucus-drenched death. Basically, the lungs of someone with cystic fibrosis work less effectively than a teenaged McDonald's employee on his last day, to the point where you can suffocate while simply sitting around and watching Price Is Right reruns.
In 2014, Sacker was in a Pittsburgh hospital and so close to an agonizing demise that he and his family were thinking about turning off his life support. The only possible solution was a device known as the Respiratory Assist System (RAS), a machine developed by a company called ALung Technologies. The RAS helps the lungs filter out carbon dioxide and provide oxygen, but it was so new that it was still taking the snail-speed journey through the FDA's approval process. At that point, it was about as legal to use in a medical capacity as a ritual sacrifice.
The FDA decided to cut through their own bureaucracy and grant special permission for Sacker to use an RAS ... but because of that whole legality thing, there were no RAS machines in the United States. The closest was in Toronto, but having it shipped to Sacker's hospital would have taken longer than he was expected to live, even if one of their neighbors didn't steal the UPS package from their doorstep.
That's when Peter DeComo, the CEO of ALung, sprang into action. DeComo drove overnight across the border to meet a colleague and retrieve an RAS. Then, when trying to cross back into America, a customs officer told him that he couldn't bring the RAS in, because it wasn't fucking FDA approved. After the "Hey, this could save a life" angle didn't work, DeComo argued that, as CEO of the company that made the machine, he was merely transporting personal property.
That was somehow the argument that swayed the officer and, 14 hours after DeComo hit the road, Sacker's breathing had improved to the point where he could eventually receive a double lung transplant. And that's the story of how a luxury-car driving CEO and a massive government bureaucracy teamed up to create the kind of inspirational story where they'd normally be the villains.
The Manufacturer Of Swiss Army Knives Refused To Lay Off Staff After 9/11
When you think about the consequences of 9/11, a sudden drop in Swiss Army Knife sales probably isn't at the forefront of your mind. But the combination knives/corkscrews/screwdrivers/tweezers/other tools you swear you'll use one day were popular to both sell at airports and bring on flights, and America put an immediate halt to both out of concern that a can opener could end up in a pilot's jugular.
That meant that Victorinox, the company that makes the knives (no, they're not made by the Swiss Army) was facing a sudden 40 percent drop in sales, which is generally the threshold where companies stop being gentle with their layoffs and just start throwing employees into the street in a desperate attempt to cut costs. But Victorinox hadn't laid off an employee for economic reasons since they were founded in 1884, and CEO Carl Elsener Jr. wasn't about to let it happen on his watch, if for no other reason than the fact that it's not a good idea to fire someone you know owns a lot of knives.
So rather than lay off lots of employees or switch direction to the rapidly burgeoning post-9/11 airport scotch industry, Elsener worked out a solution where his employees were loaned out to other local businesses until Victorinox recovered by diversifying into other markets and other products like luggage, kitchen knives, and high-end yodeling equipment. How many managers have you had who, instead of kicking you to the curb, would help you find a new job?
And yes, Victorinox did indeed make a comeback, at which point employees were welcomed back having never spent a single day in the unemployment line.
Coca-Cola Threatened Atlanta So They Would Acknowledge MLK Jr.
Coca-Cola is practically the poster boy for the downside of capitalism -- their ubiquitous ads encourage us and impressionable kids to waste money on a drink that's terrible for your health, and that's not even getting into their many labor and environmental issues. But, much like how even the sweetest old grandma is capable of becoming a profane rage monster under the right circumstances, Coke sometimes stands up for the little guy. Life's complicated, kids.
In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. became only the second African-American to win a Nobel Prize. He was also the first from the state of Georgia to be honored, so his boyhood city of Atlanta wanted to show how proud it was of his contributions by throwing a grand banquet in his honor.
But because it was 1964 Atlanta, the business community and white elite turned their collective nose at the preposterous idea of publicly honoring a black man. Some were hardcore segregationists, while others just wanted to wait and see how the whole "civil rights" thing played out before they associated with King. Either way, the date for the dinner was fast approaching and they had sold about as many tickets as your uncle's one-man ska reinterpretation of Cats.
But then the banquet reached out to Coca-Cola, and their chairman, J. Paul Austin, gathered up Atlanta's business leaders and threatened to make Atlanta a Coke-free city if they didn't show up. Austin said, "It is embarrassing for Coca-Cola to be located in a city that refuses to honor its Nobel Prize winner. We are an international business. The Coca-Cola Company does not need Atlanta. You all have to decide whether Atlanta needs the Coca-Cola Company."
Remember, Coca-Cola is based in Atlanta, so Austin wasn't just implying that they'd all have to start drinking Pepsi -- he was threatening to up and move one of the biggest and most profitable corporations on the planet to another city. Every ticket to the dinner was sold within two hours.
A Yogurt CEO Helps Refugees, Puts Up With Death Threats
Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant, founded the Greek yogurt company Chobani in 2005 and is now worth nearly two billion dollars thanks to the powerful market of moms who want to poop better. An immigrant who converted an American education and business loan into a financial empire should be a classic American success story, but Ulukaya has found himself on the receiving end of death threats, and not just from hardline Activia loyalists.
You see, among Ulukaya's philanthropic efforts -- which include a pledge to donate at least half of his wealth to charity -- is a charity he founded that helps refugees living in America start new lives. In addition, one of his own yogurt plants in Idaho has a workforce that's roughly 30 percent refugees and, to a very special group of people, there's nothing more horrifying than new Americans with a different skin color having a decent job.
So Ulukaya found himself the subject of headlines like "American Yogurt Tycoon Vows To Choke U.S. With Muslims," which we guess is supposed to be scaremongering even though it's hard to strike fear into someone's heart with the words "Yogurt Tycoon Vows." Other "news" sites have falsely accused Ulukaya of calling for American businesses to lead an "Islamic surge," tried to tie his refugee employees to unrelated rape cases, accused Ulukaya of exploiting cheap foreign labor instead of hiring Americans, and blamed Idaho's new yogurt plant for a freaking tuberculosis outbreak.
But there's no cruel labor exploitation here -- all of Ulukaya's employees make above minimum wage and have benefits that include paid paternal leave, and Idaho is a top destination for refugees because it has a low unemployment rate, so they can bring new jobs to the state instead of snatching existing ones. In fact, every Chobani employee was recently given shares in the company based on the length of their tenure, making the oldest employees millionaires overnight.
Ulukaya's reward for assuming that the average person would rather help make yogurt than starve to death or get shot at has been anger, boycotts, and threats. Ulukaya's billions of dollars probably provide ample comfort in this time of need but, just in case, he continues to donate to charity and has promised to help teach other businesses how to successfully integrate refugees into their workforce.
The head of Human Rights Watch called him "the xenophobe's nightmare," and a professor of agricultural economics argued that all the complaining has probably done more to help his brand and sales than hurt them. But perhaps the best argument in Ulukaya's favor is that refugees from a variety of countries like Myanmar and Afghanistan had been working happily and peacefully in his business for years before the internet's giant wheel of things to randomly start hating landed on freaking yogurt.
Think Nana and Pop-Pop's loving 60-year monogamous relationship is quaint and old-fashioned? First off, sorry for that disturbing image, but we've got some news for you: the monogamous sexual relationship is actually brand new relative to how long humans have been around. Secondly, it's about to get worse from here: monkey sex.
On this month's live podcast, Jack O'Brien and the Cracked staff welcome Dr. Christopher Ryan, podcaster and author of 'Sex at Dawn', onto the show for a lively Valentine's Day discussion about love, sex, why our genitals are where they are, and why we're more like chimps and bonobos than you think.
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