5 High-Profile Deaths in the Executive Suite

by Tom Taulli | February 6, 2012 1:57 pm

Micron (NASDAQ:MU[1]), one of the world’s largest semiconductor companies, lost its leader Friday, when a plane crash[2] in Boise, Idaho, killed its 51-year-old CEO, Steve Appleton.

Appleton was known for engaging in extreme activities, and previously was involved in at least one other plane crash, which resulted in a broken back and collapsed lung. He also loved racing motorcycles and off-road vehicles.

However, Appleton’s death wasn’t unique. CEOs often can be extremely competitive and engage in high-risk activities. Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL[3]) CEO Larry Ellison famously had a near-death experience when a hurricane struck during the Hobart Yacht Race in 1999, killing six sailors in other yachts.

Still, many executives are fortunate enough to go in more peaceful fashion, and usually after they’ve stepped down. But these five notable deaths took executives that otherwise might have had plenty of time left:

Dennis Barnhart, Eagle Computer

Eagle Computer was a hot PC company that went public in 1984. On the day of its original IPO — June 8, 1983 — the company’s CEO, Dennis Barnhart, was killed while driving a red Ferrari. It appeared he was test-driving different vehicles, but his Ferrari spun out and plunged into a ravine, killing Barnhart at age 40.

Afterward, Eagle Computer rescinded the IPO and returned the investor money. It held another IPO months later, but eventually was forced out of business in 1986.

Daniel Lewin, Akamai

On Sept. 11, 2001, Akamai’s (NASDAQ:AKAM[4]) co-founder and chief technology officer Daniel Lewin boarded American Airlines Flight 11. He was going to Los Angles, but of course, terrorists instead crashed the plane into the World Trade Center[5]. Daniel was 31.

While getting a doctorate degree at MIT in 1996, he teamed up with Professor Thomson Leighton to come up with better algorithms to speed-up Internet traffic. A couple years later, they launched Akamai, which turned into one of the top dot-coms of the era.

David Kellermann, Freddie Mac

David Kellermann joined the firm in 1992 and became the acting chief financial officer in September 2008, at the height of the financial crisis. In April 2009, he was found dead[6] in his basement because of an apparent suicide. He was 41.

A day before his death, Kellermann offered his resignation, but Freddie Mac’s human resources chief instead suggested he take a few days off. Freddie Mac had been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as the Justice Department in the previous months. Since being taken over by the federal government in September 2008, Freddie Mac has taken more than $72 billion in bailout funds[7] from the U.S. Treasury.

Edouard Michelin, Michelin

In May 2006, French tire giant Michelin’s CEO, Edouard Michelin, died at age 44 in a boating accident[8] while fishing off the coast of northwest France. The skipper also was killed in the accident.

Edouard, whose grandfather co-founded the company in 1889, joined Michelin in 1985 and then became the CEO in 1999. He was instrumental in the company’s turnaround.

Zhang Shuhong, Lee Der Industrial

Lee Der Industrial was a Chinese manufacturer that made toys under Mattel‘s (NASDAQ:MAT[9]) Fisher-Price banner. In 2007, the company’s CEO, Zhang Shuhong committed suicide by hanging himself[10]. He was 52.

Lee Der Industrial was investigated after Mattel was forced to make a worldwide recall for toys that were tainted with paint containing high levels of led. More than 1 million toys were recalled in American stores alone. Reports have said Zhang’s best friend was the supplier of the paint.

Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook[11], a site dedicated to the hottest news and rumors about initial public offerings. He also is the author of “All About Short Selling”[12] and “All About Commodities.”[13] Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli[14]. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. MU: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=MU
  2. plane crash: https://investorplace.com/2012/02/micron-ceo-steve-appleton-dies-in-plane-crash/
  3. ORCL: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=ORCL
  4. AKAM: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=AKAM
  5. crashed the plane into the World Trade Center: http://articles.cnn.com/2001-09-11/tech/akamai.founder_1_uniform-web-infrastructure-akamai-technologies-tom-leighton?_s=PM:TECH
  6. found dead: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/04/22/freddie-mac-cfo-dead-apparent-suicide/
  7. $72 billion in bailout funds: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/freddie-mac-seeks-6-billion-bailout-quarterly-loss_n_1073962.html
  8. boating accident: http://money.cnn.com/2006/05/26/news/newsmakers/michelin/index.htm
  9. MAT: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=MAT
  10. hanging himself: http://stevejanke.com/archives/237010.php
  11. IPO Playbook: https://investorplace.com/ipo-playbook/
  12. “All About Short Selling”: http://www.amazon.com/All-About-Short-Selling/dp/0071759344/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302184310&sr=1-1
  13. “All About Commodities.”: http://www.amazon.com/All-About-Commodities/dp/0071769986/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_10
  14. @ttaulli: https://twitter.com/ttaulli

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