(Originally published here.)
Julian Robertson, the hedge fund billionaire, told CNBC that he sold all of his Apple holdingsafter discovering that Steve Jobs was a “really awful” person through Walter Isaacson’s biography. According to Robertson, this is because mean people can’t build enduringly successful companies. Here are some other business founders whose companies Robertson probably wouldn’t want to own:
1. Henry Clay Frick, United States Steel Corp.
Frick was called one of the “worst American CEOs of all time” by Portfolio magazine. One reason was that his vigorous response to the Homestead Strike of 1892 led to the deaths of 16 people. On the other hand, the company he helped found — U.S. Steel — remains the country’s largest producer, as well as the namesake of the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite the contraction of the American steel industry over the past 30 years.
2. Henry Ford, Ford Motor Corp.
While Ford is admired for paying his workers well and for building an experimental city in Brazil, he was alsoa rabid anti-Semite who popularized a minor piece of Russian propaganda and “inspired” Adolf Hitler. His car company is still thriving, however, and managed to avoid the bailouts endured by General Motors and Chrysler.
3. Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA
In his youth, Kamprad was an active member of Sweden’s fascist movement and was enthusiastic about recruiting new members. Later in life, the company he controlled took advantage of forced labor in East German prison camps as a cost-savings measure. Yet Kamprad is still one of the world’s richest men, and his company remains the world’s biggest home-furnishings retailer. (Fortunately for Robertson, IKEA is privately held, so he could never have been foolishly tempted to buy any shares.)
4. Thomas J. Watson, International Business Machines Corp.
According to investigative journalist Edwin Black, Watson may have been directly involved in IBM’s collaboration with the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. On the other hand, the company is now worth $200 billion.
5. Cecil Rhodes, De Beers
A major advocate of British subjugation of the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa, the founder of the Rhodes scholarship was also the man behind the De Beers diamond mines. Today, De Beers continues to control about 40 percent of the world’s supply of raw diamonds and now has retail outlets selling jewelry.
6. Republic of Siena, Monte Dei Paschi Di Siena
No single individual created this bank, which was established in 1472 by the Italian city-state. However, the founders hoped that it, like the sister institutions that followed it across Europe, would displace Jewish moneylenders. Considered the oldest operating bank in the world, Monte Dei Paschi has lately been embroiled in a scandal over hiding losses from the financial crisis.
(Matthew C. Klein is a writer for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter.)