Ship builder & Astronaut
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea”: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, cult author (The Little Prince). “Anything that man can imagine is possible”: Wernher von Braun, pioneer of rocket and space technology. These are two of my favourite quotations of all time, and I make no apologies for combining them here.
Visionary & Communicator
Only once you have succeeded in anchoring your vision in the hearts and minds of your team can the journey to new shores be a lasting triumph. It goes without saying that any ship needs a captain. And if there’s one thing that only the captain can take care of, it’s the job of specifying the destination and plotting the route. Once the course is set, it follows that the captain needs to communicate the ship’s shared vision and ultimate goal authentically – and not just among the crew, but also to the assembled public and all relevant stakeholders.
For business & society
A series of recent studies have clearly indicated that German consumers want brands and companies to play a role in overcoming social challenges. About half of all Germans believe that C-suite business leaders need to be involved in solving these issues. Delegation is not an option. Companies therefore need to evolve from purely economic to equally socio-political players, and CEOs need to lead the way. What does this involve? Well, it means that brands will need take a stand on key societal issues and communicate a clear brand message, issued by the boss, ideally a brand in his or her own right, in order to rise above the masses.
Dr Z & the transformation
Over the past decade, Dieter Zetsche, Daimler’s CEO until 2019, probably wins hands down when it comes to building a CEO brand and thereby strengthening his company’s corporate brand. Zetsche embodied and exemplified the modern corporate culture that he wanted to see at every level of the billion-euro company. Down-to-earth and open-minded, small talk with employees in the canteen, relaxed job interviews behind the wheel of a company car, appearing as Dr Z in TV and internet advertising, etc. The Stuttgart-based carmaker, once more synonymous with cufflinks and starched collars, transformed itself into an unflappably hip brand, which Dr Z, with his uncompromising conviction, led back to the top of the world by 2018 and to record financial results at all levels.
Ola & the crisis
Daimler also provides a sobering example of what it can mean for a company when it loses its public face. In May 2019, Dieter Zetsche said goodbye as Chairman of the Board of Management – and Daimler became a distressed company with profits that are still plummeting today. Why? Well, that is currently the subject of much debate. The fact is that the company has lost its charisma with the departure of its sparkling boss. Let’s be honest – have you even heard of Ola Källenius? He’s the current CEO of Daimler. The man who is being referred to in the media as a CEO on probation. He is following in some very great footsteps – and got off to a catastrophic start. Whether he will succeed in turning Daimler around or not is anybody’s guess.
Jeff Bezos & ESG
Jeff Bezos and Amazon are undoubtedly two of the world’s leading brands. But are they (still) getting their message and positioning right? As CEO of truly global corporation, a man who has achieved success beyond all measure, Bezos was recently dealt a rather large surprise. The face of Amazon and a habitual winner, Bezos didn’t even make it into the highly prestigious Harvard Business Review Top 100 Best-Performing CEOs in the World in 2020. The reason was that this year, HBR overweighted ESG criteria. In terms of working conditions, employer branding and data security, Amazon and Bezos failed in 2020. You probably think that the richest man in the world, one of the biggest winners from the coronavirus crisis, couldn’t care less. But experts know: that can’t be true. The next few months and years will prove that any brand that neglects sustainability criteria will pay a significant long-term price.
Summary & Conclusion
As you can see, top-tier executives – let’s call them CEOs – have never before been so committed to achieving sustainable success. Not only do they set and communicate their brand’s visions, independently and both internally and externally, they also assume a responsibility towards society. Stakeholders are increasingly putting their image, their brand and their corporate positioning under the microscope. And a CEO who ignores all of this is not only going to suffer when the next CEO rankings are announced, they are going to see their company take a massive and sustained financial hit. More than ever before, the reputation of a company’s CEO has become a yardstick for measuring the reputation of the company itself.
With branded regards
Your Harald Steiner