Posted by: rolfsky | December 15, 2008

do companies look like their CEOs?

It’s eerie sometimes, isn’t it, how a dog can look like its owner. Would it be outlandish to imagine that a company looks like its CEO?

Or, not looks like, exactly. But perhaps acts like?

Does the structure, strategy, and practices of Microsoft echo how Bill Gates presents himself? Do we see ripples of Steve Job’s subdued glasses and black turtleneck mirrored in the current lineup of Apple products? Does the iconoclastic multi-business Virgin conglomerate remind you of its multi-talented iconoclastic founder Richard Branson?

Does the company of eBay look a little like Pierre, overlaid with Meg Whitman, and a dash of John Donahoe?

The individual in a position of power uses the same mental model to make decisions both about their company and their personal actions on a daily basis.

The brain being used to negotiate multi-million dollar contracts is also being used to choose which pair of shoes to wear, and whether it matters if those shoes match their belt.

As an example, we all know CEOs who have a sense of style and believe in the importance that of experience and impression in their lives. They believe or understand style and presentation to be critical to success, so they will make sure their company can execute with the same level of “flair”. They will hire, fire, promote, and guide with these goals in mind, placing an importance on interaction and presentation that might not be seen in other companies.

But don’t get into the correlation == causation trap! There’s many reasons people might choose that tie or dress. Does the CEO wear sandals because they are actively rebelling against the “conformity” of shoes? Or because this is perfectly acceptable attire at university and they haven’t updated their wardrobe? Maybe they feel they have something to prove about succeeding without dressing like others in business.

The next time I interview for a job or invest in a company, when they get to the section where I can ask questions, I will have these two important queries:

  • who’s really “in charge here”
  • what are they like outside of work?

The little details about what car they drive, what shoes they wear, and where they choose to have their home may have critical foreshadowing as to how they run their business.

So how well does your boss dress?

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