CEO Sharks

by Chas Smith

I am not a demon. I am a lizard, a shark, a heat-seeking panther. I want to be Bob Denver on acid playing the accordion.

JIN SOOK CHANG I grew up surfing in Oregon and there are lots of great white sharks there. I think I saw one, once, in the back of a wave. Imagine a great white shark. Its big teeth, its thunderous attitude, its electroreceptor organs that make hiding damn near impossible for its prey. Now imagine a great white shark personified, walking around Highland Park, California and running a fashion empire. That’s Jin Sook Chang, 51-year-old CEO of Forever 21. Like the great white shark eats leopard sharks for dinner, Jin Sook Chang eats mid-level fashion brands for fucking lunch. Forever 21 is the retail despot that kicked off the “fast fashion” craze that swept malls everywhere [and then leapt to the internet]. Kids go in and, pennies later, look super trendy. They buy studded things and fringed things. When the trends change, tomorrow, they can go back in, and more pennies later, look super trendy again. Ad nuseam. And all these pennies at Forever 21 are pretty much thrashing other mall mainstays like Abercrombie & Fitch who—according to stock-watcher site Trefis—is scrambling to “…revamp its product portfolio…increasing style differentiation to offer a better variety of fashion assortments and remain responsive to changing trends.” And all those pennies go into Jin Sook Chang’s pocket, and her co-founder husband’s pocket, and her daughters’ pockets, who head marketing and visual elements. Sook Chang says, “It’s important my daughters learn from the hard work we put into this company. Who better to look out for your best interest than family?” She started at the bottom now her whole team’s here. And by “here” I mean 400,000,000,000 pennies later.


ANDREW WYLIE There are 465 different kinds of sharks out there. Some, like whale sharks, eat krill. Others, like tiger sharks, eat people. Andrew Wylie is a tiger shark. He eats literary agents. Heavyweight novelist Martin Amis, famously, had a cozy British agent named Patricia Kavanagh for two decades. It was nice and he wrote books and they drank wine together. Then Wylie came along and secured Amis a giant advance for his book, The Information. He dumped his cozy British agent and signed with Wylie. His cozy British agent died in 2008. Wylie’s eyes possess that same piercing gaze of predators of the sea, the kind of gaze that enchants a victim a split-second too long, and by then it’s too late. Wylie is not shy. He spoke to New Republic in October 2013 about poaching clients, bluntly admitting, “I was the guy with the scalpel. I didn’t think it was rude to say, ‘You’d do better in surgery with me with my scalpel than with this other person with the shovel. Because after all, the patient is dying.’” About using the Kindle, he says, “I was in Rome, in the back of a taxi, and I couldn’t see it. So I thought, fuck this. This was in 1924 or something when the Kindle was launched. I bought it right away and discarded it immediately. And I haven’t picked it up again. Mea maxima culpa.” About his wife, he says, “She’s nice, I’m not.” [Editor’s note: Writer Chas Smith confessed to hoping Wylie would poach him, a statement we find unlikely to ever be relevant to Wylie, but we’re happy to humor him here: “I would tell him ‘no,’” Chas stated on record. “But I would be very honored.”]


MARISSA MAYER Despite their smooth appearance, sharks don’t have regular scales. They have super scales that make up a sort of outer skeleton, dermal denticles, if you will. Tough as fucking nails, if we may. Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer is bringing the 2003 WebTV search engine of choice back from the dead, a job that requires something more than regular garb. Unlike a shark, Mayer is not drably countershaded. The chief executive officer prefers the vestments of Oscar de la Renta, but similarly to a shark—if you’ll allow—she makes that regalia tough as fucking nails, too. Marissa Mayer came to Yahoo! from Google where she was very effective but made many enemies, where she took the top executive position while five months pregnant and then used just two weeks of maternity leave. The Google design people, allegedly, did not like her. She, apparently, did not care. And, as CEO of Yahoo! she’s making more enemies but now, allegedly, nobody cares because the stock price is up and hot things are happening. Like Tumblr. But it’s also been speculated that Mayer might be looking to downsize without the costs associated with a layoff, which is not such a hot thing. She’s not your typical tech nerd. She lives in the penthouse of San Francisco’s Four Seasons and, according to the Huffington Post, wears Oscar de la Renta instead of hoodies and flip-flops [which is something we confidently know to be the uniform of tech giants because we’ve seen The Social Network three times]. My wife says, “She should really wear Alexander McQueen but don’t give that bitch any ideas.” My wife doesn’t like her because Mayer cancelled the Yahoo! work-at-home policy. At the time, Mayer was pregnant and had 300 million dollars to pay for nannies and babysitters so she didn’t have to work at home. But my wife doesn’t work at Yahoo! so, speaking of not caring, shouldn’t either.


TRAVIS KALANICK It is a known fact that sharks have to keep swimming in order to live. They have to keep swimming because if they stop their gills stop, too. Or something. If sharks lived on land, though, they could take a break by using their Uber apps. Travis Kalanick, founder and CEO of Uber, is awesome because guess what he’s doing? He’s making riding a taxi “baller.” In a feature with Fortune, Kalanick says, “You push a button and a black car comes up. Who’s the baller? It was a baller move to get a black car to arrive in eight minutes.” If sharks love anything it is to be baller. Kalanick—who on occasion has been called a “jerk”—started Uber out of the ashes of a failed peer-to-peer file-sharing network that was sued to death by Michael Ovitz. This futurist car service is a very simple concept. You push a button (on your phone) and a black car rolls up (on the street). Your bank information is in your phone and there’s water and snacks in the car and no fumbling around in your pockets for cash money. Baller. Shark baller. But city officials hate him, and taxi commissioners hate him. They feel that Kalanick and Uber are skirting the rules and regulations. In Washington D.C., for instance, the commissioner carried out a sting and busted some poor Uber driver for four violations, including charging an improper fare and not being licensed as a chauffer. I was in Washington D.C. this summer after wandering around the West Wing. It was after dark and freezing cold. I tried, for 20 minutes, to hail a cab. Then I Uber’d. A black SUV rolled up in two minutes. Super shark baller! Uber has generally gone off with nary a hitch minus these anti-Uberians. Well, that and the surge pricing at peak business hours. [Editor’s note: We once rode in an UberX that formerly transported Leonardo DiCaprio, the star of  Martin Scorsese’s 2013 masterpiece, The Wolf of Wall Street. In Wall Street DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, who we like to call ‘The White Shark of Wall Street,” which is also the title of a book by Diane B. Henriques about the original “corporate re-juvinator,” FYI. Connections abound in this feature.]


AMANDA STAVELEY Sand sharks spend their days swimming close to the shoreline and they don’t eat people, unless the shark is named Amanda Staveley. Then they eat all kinds of people, especially people from England. She says she’s no shark, and once told The Guardian in 2008: “It wouldn’t matter if I was making £8 million or £200 million. I just want to go to bed at night and say I’ve done a good job.” She goes to bed [unlike smaller, lesser-engineered sharks that must shut off enough of their brain to avoid being eaten by larger sharks, humans, and whales and then keep going] in Dubai and does a very good job, investing billions of pounds for Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and other rich oil sheiks. She gets more than £8 million in commission. She gets, like, £30 million and says, “I can see an opportunity or a problem faster than any lawyer.” She sees the opportunity and yum yum yum gobbles it up. In the early days she attended boarding school, and later studied modern languages, living homelessly, in a Burberry coat. She let nothing get her down, though, and moved to the Middle East and started hanging out with Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, helping him acquire Manchester City Football Club just because. She is smart and sharky enough to steal the ownership away from England at a time when anti-sand shark sentiment ran super high in that country. “Fuck the sand sharks!” rang the collective chant. But Amanda Staveley didn’t give a shit. She was like, “Here you go Arabs. Enjoy.” Manchester City Football Club won the Premier League in 2012. Then Staveley married a banker named Mehrdad Ghodoussi and wore two Alexander McQueen dresses custom made by Sarah Burton. My wife totally approves. She then set up a mobile telecom company in Yemen. I spent lots of time in Yemen and I really needed a good mobile phone. I could never get coverage.


ARIANNA HUFFINGTON Sharks are apex predators because they have no real enemy besides humans. Arianna Huffington is an apex predator because she can cross over typical “blue” and “red” political lines and get all sassy. She used to be married to a Republican. He died and now she’s this super prog editor of an eponymous blog. She says, “Our current obsession with creativity is the result of our continued striving for immortality in an era when most people no longer believe in an afterlife.” She probably doesn’t believe in an afterlife because she’s too busy being all apex. Arianna Stassinopoulou was born in Greece and wrote anti-women’s lib screeds. She also wrote for conservative bulwark The National Review. Then she married Michael Huffington and loved up Newt Gingrich. Somewhere along the line, maybe after her husband died, she became prog. She says, “The right/left divisions are so outdated now. For me, the primary division is between people who are aware of what I call ‘the two nations’ (rich and poor), and those who are not.” She’s rich. America Online bought the Huffington Post for 315 million dollars. What’s America Online? Is it apex?

Illustrator: Aimée Sawyer at