Iâ€™ve met a lot of CEOs in my 11 years at FORTUNE but no one as opinionated and outspoken as T.J. Rodgers, who is in charge at Cypress Semiconductor, a Silicon Valley chipmaker. Rodgers, who is 59, has strong views about how to run a company (â€œno-excuses management”), about global warming (heâ€™s a skeptic), about taxes (they should be flat and simple) and about Al Gore (â€œI wouldnâ€™t trust him as far as I can throw him, which isnâ€™t very far…have you seen him lately?â€). I had an enjoyable conversation with Rodgers while researching a story about SunPower Corp., a fast-growing solar energy company controlled by Cypress. Keep an eye out for the story in the next issue of FORTUNE (cover date: October 15.)
A libertarian, Rodgers opposes government handouts of all kinds, including those that favor business. (He’s against tax breaks for solar, too.) He once testified before Congress that the U.S. Dept. of Commerce should be abolished, and you should hear him talk about Archer Daniels Midland and ethanol subsidies. Although running his company and overseeing SunPower keeps him busy, he finds time to serve as a trustee of Dartmouth College, his alma mater, where heâ€™s involved in a pitched battle with the administration over university governance. An iconoclast, heâ€™s ruffled a few Ivy League feathers.
In other words, heâ€™s the kind of CEO who, agree with him or not, is provocative, fun to interview and a breath of fresh air during a time most people at big companies parse their words with extreme care. I canâ€™t tell you how many times I come out of an interview with a CEO (the most recent being the otherwise admirable Donald Graham of the Washington Post Co.) with notebook full of bland quotes. Thereâ€™s no danger of that with Rodgers.
During our interview, we got onto the topic of corporate social responsibility. Rodgers is unmoved by the claim that itâ€™s the job of business to help solve social or environmental problems. (Heâ€™s in the solar business for the money.) Which somehow got him onto the topic of a Vermont-based purveyor of ice creamâ€¦
Ben and Jerry. Look at those goddamn hypocrites.
Iâ€™m reading a report right nowâ€”a fat thingâ€”itâ€™s on the tragedy of the way we feed ourselves. We all ought to be tofu eaters. Because what happens is that the carbon dioxide goes into the plant and then you eat the plant and you then sequester carbon dioxide. Whereas if you use the plant to feed the cow, the cow then produces carbon dioxide, the cow produces methane, including decomposition of manure. It turns out that if you take the livestock population of the world, it dwarfs automobiles and power sources.â€
Heâ€™s talking about greenhouse gases here, and heâ€™s not quite right about the numbers. Power plants produce more than cows, but his point is well taken. One of the simplest things anyone can do to reduce GHG emissions is to eat less beef, and eating less ice cream is probably a good thing, too, as he goes on to sayâ€¦.
Point two. The United States is now No. 41 in life span. Weâ€™re 77.3 (years). Thereâ€™s a little country in Spain thatâ€™s 83, but if you go to a real country, theyâ€™re in the high 70s or to 81. So we are now four years behind. Four years. And we have sunk from being 10th, where the top 10, were all kind of tight, to being 41st. What is it? Blood sugar control, diabetes, fat are one of the reasons. Weâ€™re now so prosperous that everybody can afford to be fat. Even poor people can afford to be fat. So we have health care problems associated with being fat.
Again, the numbers arenâ€™t accurate — — but his logic is sound. So he saysâ€¦
Think about Cherry Berry Garcia. He promotes giant herds of CO2 emitting, methane farting cows and produces cholesterol bombs and real cream to make sick Americans sicker and fatter. And he pontificates about being good to the world.
If you actually took a scientific view of whatâ€™s good and bad for the earth, heâ€™s one of the worst guys around. On both ends. He poisons the atmosphere to produce poison that hurts obese people.
Heâ€™s Cherry Methane Cholesterol Garcia. They ought to name their ice cream that way.
And heâ€™s a guy, by the way, I really, really donâ€™t like. Him and Mackey.â€
I believe heâ€™s talking about Ben Cohen (and not Jerry Garcia). I didnâ€™t ask him about his beef with Whole Foodsâ€™ John Mackey. TJ also has some colorful comments about GE chief exec and fellow Dartmouth alum Jeff Immelt, which I put in the FORTUNE story. But my basic point is this: The business world would benefit from lively debate about range of issues if other execs were as outspoken as Rodgers. It would be a whole lot more entertaining, too.