Today, what is more visible than the brand’s or the company’s logo, is the company’s CEO.
Short form for Chief Executive Officer, the position of the CEO is one of the most powerful positions and is highly coveted for in the corporate world. Though its contours are defined by the board of directors, nevertheless the CEO assumes a wide range of functions.
These include key decision making, determining the directions and the goals of the company, and also keeping a tab on everything that is going on in the company, ranging from human resources to R&D, et all.
In this age of hyper-connectivity along with an obsession for the next big thing, CEOs, especially those in the technological realm, are increasingly becoming public figures, more so, in their own right. They now have an unprecedented capacity to influence the public narrative about a company, intentionally or not.
CEO’s View Counts
On the 6th of January 2021, Trump supporters stormed into the Capitol Hill. Hours later, Twitter became the very first social media platform to ban the outgoing president from its platform, permanently. Several other companies then followed suit.
Many inside and outside Twitter had already been demanding for a ban on Trump ever since he took office. They cited countless tweets inciting panic, violence, and even fake news. When Twitter finally banned Trump, it held its fort, by appropriately labelling these content. However, at the same time, Twitter also stated; that as a public office holder, Trump’s tweets had to go out into the world.
The internal decision-making that went into banning Trump is still unclear but it definitely ultimately rested with their CEO, Jack Dorsey. By taking the unprecedented stand of banning Trump from Twitter, Dorsey put Twitter where no other social media platform had dared ventured before, nor wants to venture now – what Twitter had done was a smack in the face of free speech. In a series of tweets, Dorsey admitted that Trump’s ban was a failure for Twitter, and that this had set a dangerous precedent. Twitter’s share price had plummeted since the Trump ban, as the users looked out for more neutral platforms.
Dorsey however, defended it as the right decision; though nobody missed the use of the word “I” in the sentence. Jack Dorsey’s personal – and some say political – views on free speech have effectively begun a new chapter for social media. Twitter in the past too had banned or deleted many accounts for varied reasons. Where Twitter goes from here, and who all follow the example as set by Twitter, remains to be seen.
The Inevitable Contrast
It is not just the personal views of the CEO that drives the company, it also can be something as simple as and as private as the CEO’s marriage, and its failure.
MacKenzie Scott’s first novel took 10 years to write as she was also juggling between raising her family and helping Jeff Bezos establish Amazon. She was the company’s first employee and had stepped down on her own volition when the business had took off.
In 2019, after 25 years of marriage and partnership, Scott and Bezos announced their divorce. At the heels of this came the news of Bezos’ extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez. Scott eventually received 35 billion dollars in Amazon stocks (alimony) and was the richest woman in the world by 2020.
In glorious contrast to Bezos, Scott immediately signed up for the Giving Pledge and donated a whopping 5.8 billion dollars to charity. Many could not help but recollect how Amazon CEO, Bezos had famously or rather infamously donated $690,000 to aid Australian bushfire relief, which they said was just 0.00059% his net worth or just 5 minutes of his income. Bezos so far, is yet to sign up for the Giving Pledge.
Amazon warehouse conditions have now become the stuff for a modern dystopian legend. As he stepped down from the position of the CEO (and took up the position of the Chairman), Bezos has started gearing towards a philanthropic retirement, in lines with Bill Gates. It is unlikely, however, that the charity for Australian Bushfire Relief Fund will prevent the scathing criticism of Amazon, that continues to mount. It is believed that Bezos will need to do much more in order to salvage his and his company’s image.
Complicity And Enabling
Sometimes, the actions of the CEO impact more than just the company – they impact an entire industry and beyond.
In 2017, dozens, then hundreds of women came forward to narrate their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of the film producer Harvey Weinstein. What followed was a global reckoning that shook the earth from its slumber and from under the feet of powerful men, with the trending hashtag #MeToo, the movement brought in long overdue consequences.
Weinstein was a part of a number of companies, including Disney, Miramax and The Weinstein Company. He left in his wake a trail of abuse and horror that would have been impossible to ignore. Many in Hollywood and beyond had accused the top-level executives in these companies, including Harvey’s brother, TWC’s CEO, Bob, as being aware and complicit in his crimes.
Weinstein’s downfall exposed an entire culture that covered up for those who brought home the profit, by turning a blind eye to everything else. Bob reportedly paid off women assaulted by Weinstein as early as in the 1990s, though he claimed that he was misled by him, and states that he had later even confronted Harvey, long before the story had broken out.
A CEO is a force to reckon with, capable of shaping not just companies, but also public opinions and perceptions.
CEOs can become the champions of their company’s ethical and moral values. The bad CEOs can present a drastic contrast to the realities of the workers and the good CEOs can enable an entire culture, not just in their company or industry but across industries.
With the rise of influencers and social media platforms, a new trend is also beginning to emerge. Many who started up as vloggers, sharing their personal lives on the internet, have now grown to become the CEOs of a diverse range of products and of companies that they started.
These range from homeware products to makeup, and even to entertainment companies. Here, the CEO is the brand. The products that they put out in the market, sell because they have their names associated with these products.
It is a much more of an inextricable relationship, much unlike the case of Amazon, Tesla and Twitter, where these companies have often continued to thrive even when Bezos, Musk and Jack Dorsey erred. However, that may not be the case with these new age Vlogger CEOs, as in their case, the people may not be so forgiving.
What do you think friends? Do you agree that the CEOs either advertently or inadvertently create and establish the brand and the company narrative? Who else do you think have similar powers to influence and even compel the public? Let us know your thoughts!