I remember working with a company after it hired a new CEO. In addition to his expertise in financial services and a winning personality, this CEO had a sports credential in his past. When I was told he might not want to talk about his former sports career in interviews, I explained that business reporters are primarily writers who love colorful details.
Love them, they did. By mentioning the CEO’s former career we were able to generate a series of top tier features using his sports history as a lead into the work he was doing at the company.
After seven years as CEO, he became Chairman and another CEO took over. The sports metaphor stayed with him throughout his career.
What’s the lesson? The personality and personal story of a leader not only puts a face on a company, they can generate trust and an emotional connection.
But there is another side of this coin. What happens when a leader with a public personality leaves somewhat unexpectedly? Is the company left with a perception deficit?
We’ve seen some relatively recent examples:
- Pimco had to deal with fleeing investors when co-founder and fund manager Bill Gross went to rival Janus Capital.
- Steve Jobs was so publicly revered that his death gave pause to Apple customers and investors alike before CEO Tim Cook was able to execute his own agenda.
Even though his departure isn’t imminent, Berkshire Hathaway appears to be laying the groundwork for the day when its’ larger-than-life Chairman, CEO and President, 84-year-old Warren Buffett, leaves.
It wasn’t lost on the media that there were significant efforts to elevate the Berkshire brand to compensate for Buffett’s super star status. These include plans to license the Berkshire Hathaway brand to estate agencies in Europe and Asia, as well as renaming the Van Tuyl Group, a leading auto dealership, Berkshire Hathaway Automotive. We’ve also seen interviews with Buffett’s likely successors.
Berkshire is wise to promote its corporate brand and its other executives. Investors might worry if Buffett were to leave today. After all, he is known as the Oracle of Omaha, a savvy investor with the Midas touch and down-to-earth Midwestern values. His public persona reassures Berkshire’s publics that the companies in its’ diverse stock portfolio are well managed and ethical, even though they know he doesn’t personally run each business day-to-day.
A strong CEO personality can add a halo to the reputation of a company but the brand and its management should also be visible through mastering communications for its long term benefit.
– Ann Pinkerton