Get All Access for $5/mo

Think Your Boss Is Scary? Check Out the Brutal Emails These Tech CEOs Sent Their Employees. Emails from Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos show that delivery and tone can always be improved — even from the top boss.

By Katie Balevic

Key Takeaways

  • A terse 2016 email from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has gone viral.
  • He told an employee they should just "figure out" how to do something, offering little help.
  • Here are some other notable times tech CEOs have sent tense emails to workers.
The Washington Post via Business Insider
Mark Zuckerberg.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

Face it. We've all had a boss (or two) who scared us. It's a canon event, but it can still be an alarming one for those who have never dealt with it before.

Employees at Meta, for instance, may be feeling the scary-boss angst as newly released emails from a terse Mark Zuckerberg went viral this week.

"You should figure out how to do this," the CEO wrote to a subordinate in 2016, according to documents released by a California court this week.

Yikes. Here are some other times executives in the tech sector probably gave their employees the chills over email.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg pointing.

Mark Zuckerberg. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images via BI

Let's start with another one from Zuckerberg. He's had a few.

In 2010, he sent employees an email with the subject line "Please resign" after inaccurate information about Facebook's products was leaked to the press.

"I'm asking whoever leaked this to resign immediately," The New York Post reported. "If you believe that it's ever appropriate to leak internal information, you should leave. If you don't resign, we will almost certainly find out who you are anyway."

Elon Musk

Elon Musk.

Elon Musk. Steve Granitz/FilmMagic via Getty Images via BI

Elon Musk is a little more straightforward.

As many execs tried to herd their employees back to the office after the COVID-19 pandemic, Musk gave his Tesla workers more direct return-to-office instructions.

"Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean minimum) of 40 hours a week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers," Musk wrote in an email in 2022, according to CNN. "If you don't show up, we will assume you have resigned."

Jeff Bezos

A close-up of Jeff Bezos wearing a white cowboy hat.

Jeff Bezos. Joe Raedle/Getty via BI

When Amazon's founder and executive chair, Jeff Bezos, was CEO, he'd let a single question mark express that he was unhappy with his team.

He said in 2018 that he employed the tactic when he got emails from upset customers.

"I see most of those emails. I see them, and I forward them to the executives in charge of the area with a question mark," Bezos said, adding that it was shorthand for, "Can you look into this? Why is this happening?"

Tim Cook

Tim Cook.

Tim Cook. BAY ISMOYO / Getty via BI

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has also taken a sharp tone with employees, emails leaked in 2021 show.

Cook scolded his employees over email after the contents of an internal meeting leaked to the press, The Verge reported.

"As you know, we do not tolerate disclosures of confidential information," Cook wrote after the incident. "We know that the leakers constitute a small number of people. We also know that people who leak confidential information do not belong here."

Bob Iger

Bob Iger.

Bob Iger. Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images via BI

While perhaps not as scathing as others, Disney CEO Bob Iger has delivered brutal news to employees via email.

In early 2023, Iger announced to his staff via email that the company was eliminating 7,000 jobs, telling employees that they would be notified if they were being shown the door "over the next four days."

He added that additional layoffs of "several thousand more staff" would happen in the following months.


Andy Jassy

Andy Jassy

Andy Jassy. Mike Blake/Reuters via BI

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy gave strict instructions to his employees about returning to the office, putting them on notice that their jobs were at stake.

"It's past the time to disagree and commit," he said in 2023. "And if you can't disagree and commit, I also understand that, but it's probably not going to work out for you at Amazon because we are going back to the office at least three days a week, and it's not right for all of our teammates to be in three days a week and for people to refuse to do so."

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Side Hustle

'The Work Just Fills My Soul': She Turned Her Creative Side Hustle Into a 6-Figure 'Dream' Business

Kayla Valerio, owner of vivid hair salon Haus of Color, transformed her passion into a lucrative venture.


6 Cost-Effective Ways to Acquire Brand Ambassadors

Boost your brand's visibility and credibility with budget-friendly strategies for acquiring brand ambassadors.

Making a Change

Mastering Resilience: Learn to Detach Mistakes from Your Self-Worth with Darrell Vesterfelt

A moment of crisis led to his partners asking him to step away from one of the businesses that he co-founded


Remove Unwanted Files from Your Work Mac Fast with This $32 Lifetime License

MacCleanse can help you safely and securely clean up your computer.

Growing a Business

This Nurse-Turned-Entrepreneur Saw the Needs of Underserved Communities Firsthand. Now, His Company Uses AI to Help Them.

Kwamane Liddell, the innovative founder behind ThriveLink, shares his entrepreneurial journey.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.