Tech CEOs Are Addicted to Taking Needless Risks

There’s a new law of the land taking root in Silicon Valley: the more technology makes us laypeople replaceable, the more the technocrats building it are considered indispensable.

That’s been good for the tech titans, many of whom are among the richest in the world and have watched their wealth and power grow alongside the rise of new tools like artificial intelligence. But it’s been more complicated for the companies they rule, saddling them with what’s known as key-person risk — when a single individual’s very existence is tied to an organization’s performance and value.

And as if that wasn’t perilous enough, there’s something else going on with these so-called key people: they just can’t seem to stop taking risks.

I’m not talking about the potential liabilities that come with taking big business bets — say, opening a new market or launching a new product. Rather, this is unnecessary and dangerous personal behavior, more in keeping with tech’s reputation of frat boy culture than that befitting CEOs running companies with valuations reaching as high as the trillions.

Take Elon Musk, who is considered so critical to Tesla Inc. that his board granted him a record $56 billion pay package — albeit one that a judge voided. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has reported that Musk is using a “concerning” volume of drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, shrooms and ketamine. (“If drugs actually helped improve my net productivity over time, I would definitely take them!” Musk posted on X in response, saying he had not tested positive in three years of random drug testing.)

Over at Meta Platforms Inc., Mark Zuckerberg effectively cannot be ousted as CEO because dual-class shares give him super-voting rights. But his appetite for combat sports, which last year led to surgery for a torn ACL, is high-risk enough that his board decided it needed to disclose the hobby in the company’s 10-K. (In a case of key men colliding, over the summer Musk and Zuckerberg even toyed with the idea of settling a long-held feud via cage match.)