6 CEOs with Strong Personal Brands
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” said Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. He wasn’t wrong. Your personal brand has become more and more important in defining how you and (perhaps most importantly) your business appear to the world.
Let’s imagine you are the CEO of tech startup specialising in home security. You are dynamic, exciting, you speak at events and often make your voice heard on issues that affect your industry. Your audience knows who you are and automatically identify you with your area of expertise as well as your brand. Perhaps you begin to get invited to speak in the media about issues surrounding home security that occur in the press. It seems likely that this would increase your brand’s authority. When you put it like this it seems obvious that building your personal brand is hugely beneficial however it is surprising how often this is viewed as a vanity exercise, or simply unimportant.
We’ve taken a look at 5 entrepreneurs who have built reputations that represent their business values and enhance their brands. Love them or loathe them their success is undeniable.
In a recent article for Entrepreneur magazine, Virgin boss Richard Branson said his most valuable possession is his reputation. No matter what your personal feelings Branson has, in his own flamboyant style, expertly leveraged his personal brand to add value to the Virgin brand.
From swallowing his pride and dressing up as a flight attendant to riding a jet ski around the waters of Dubai Branson is not scared of an audacious publicity stunt or two. As a result, Virgin has become associated with risk-taking and innovation, giving them the competitive edge over other companies.
Where’s he’s arguably excelled the most, however, has to be in times of crisis. Firstly Branson has consistently upheld excellent relationships with journalists receiving fair and balanced treatment in the press even at times of crisis for the brand. Secondly, he’s not afraid to step in personally. At the time of the Virgin Trains derailment, Branson headed straight to the site to comfort frightened passengers, express gratitude to the staff and assure everyone that Virgin would emerge stronger.
In an article on his site Branson is quoted as saying: “In If, Kipling also wrote: ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.’
“He was probably not talking about the corporate world. Nevertheless, an executive’s ability to lead his or her company during the bad times as well as the good shows why only a few executives deserve to have the word ‘chief’ in their title.”
The Right Honourable Baroness Brady, and The First Lady of Football, that’s quite the set of titles Karren Brady has under her belt. She wasn’t born into nobility, however; throughout her career, she has been a sporting executive, politician, television personality, newspaper columnist and an author.
Yet it is not just her CV that makes her so impressive, she has generated a brilliant personal brand, one that has stood firmly with her throughout her years in business. Her personal brand is so strong that it holds its own in a room with Alan Sugar, and has done for 8 years. Maintaining her ‘ballsy’ approach from her first match day with Birmingham City FC, when one player said: “I can see your tits in that top”, and she quickly replied “Well, don’t worry – when I sell you to Crewe, you won’t be able to see them from there”.
And she did sell him. It is this level-headed but lethal approach that encapsulates Karren Brady’s style, making her a prime example of how to affirm your place at the table with a strong reputation and consistent personal brand.
Sir Stuart Rose is one of the best known British business leaders, lauded by investors and retail experts alike for stepping in to fight off a takeover bid from Sir Phillip Green in 2004 and bringing M&S profits back to the £1bn mark (something that hadn’t been achieved since 1997).
His strength lies in his own ability to be a powerful ambassador for the brand. Stylishly turned out, his appearance alone gave him gravitas especially as he was often clad from the rails of his own company. Couple that with an even sharper rhetoric and you have a powerful combination: “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck, right? That’s how I operate. I’m not going to take the duck’s bloody footprints, send them away for DNA analysis and find 10 weeks later that it’s a duck, by which time it’s flown away. That’s where I think they have been a bit slow here sometimes. It’s analysis-paralysis”
Rose took a personal interest in his customer’s thoughts on products, refusing to take a step back from the product his business was selling. He famously arranged a meeting with Jeremy Paxman following his criticism of M&S men’s pants. Anyone who doubted his ability to turn things around for the retail behemoth prior to his appointment cannot have doubted him for long.
A straight talking, King of Common sense Charlie Mullins has positioned himself as an antidote to the stuffy suits of the city.
Outspoken and well known for his political views and no-nonsense attitude, Charlie has used unique style to ensure Pimlico Plumbers stands out from the crowd. He regularly appears on TV and is outspoken in his desire to distance himself from the bog-standard plumber (pardon the pun) with reputations for unreliability and overcharging.
Pimlico Plumbers’ apprenticeship programmes and fundraising initiatives are directly tied to Mullins ethics of hard work and reflect the way he built an empire from humble beginnings. A patron of the Princes Trust Mullins practises what he preaches as he works to offer young people the same chances he had.
His outspoken nature and transparency have cultivated a trust in his business that is invaluable in the service industry.
Ms Banks is the former host of “America’s Next Top Model” and one of America’s most successful and most loved models, turned presenter, CEO, celebrity icon and entrepreneur. She’s built her brand, and empire, on the pillars of self-confidence, frankness and smising.
Her down-to-earth attitude won the hearts of millions and propelled her into the spotlight as role-model and mentor for women all over the country. However, what ties her personal brand up so well is her individual commitment to always learning and evolving, something she preaches to her mentees.
Starting with an executive education program at Harvard Business School, she soon proved herself to the business world with her company ‘TYRA beauty’. Now she is co-teaching her own two-week class for MBA students at Stanford University, the title of her course “Project You: Building and Extending Your Personal Brand”. How fitting for this champion of personal brands, and we are all rooting for you, Tyra!
Anna Wintour is perhaps the best-known name in fashion, and certainly one of the most feared and influential. Kanye knew the power in her approval and vied after it for years, but what makes her personal brand so impenetrable? For starters, she is beyond consistent; her vision for Vogue has always been completely intertwined with her personal identity, and as such, as Vogue grew, so did her personal brand. Wintour has positioned herself, like Vogue, as sharp, ahead of the curve, aspirational and never wrong. Vogue and Wintour are heralded as the true voice of fashion, and as such their prestige is rarely questioned. Regarding her controversial managerial style, Wintour’s uncaring attitude to these opinions quells most dispute and only continues to bolster her personal brand. And even if she is subject to critique, see Devil Wears Prada or the archetypal villain of the fashion editor, this does little to damage her reputation. She has built these brands with near-diamond integrity and an aura of divine knowledge; her ability to maintain this speaks to the strength of her personal brand and ability as a businesswoman.
Wintour has positioned herself, like Vogue, as sharp, ahead of the curve, aspirational and never wrong. Vogue and Wintour are heralded as the true voice of fashion, and as such their prestige is rarely questioned. Regarding her controversial managerial style, Wintour’s uncaring attitude to these opinions quells most dispute and only continues to bolster her personal brand.
Even if she is subject to critique, see Devil Wears Prada or the archetypal villain of the fashion editor, this does little to damage her reputation. She has built these brands with near-diamond integrity and an aura of divine knowledge; her ability to maintain this speaks to the strength of her personal brand and ability as a businesswoman.