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YOUR PERSONAL BRAND: DON’T EXPECT TO LEAD WITHOUT IT

By
Brenda Smith, Managing Partner
and
John Kelly, Senior Associate
Prophet

? Prophet, 2002

Consider how New York City’s chief executive and the CEO of a Silicon Valley firm each demonstrated
their personal brands during and after the events of September 11.
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was everywhere – rushing to the World Trade Center after the first
plane hit, fleeing for safety when the second tower collapsed, keeping the public informed, preparing the city
for the unfolding aftermath of the attacks, meeting with firefighters and policemen, and consoling individuals
and families over their losses. After a year of unending gossip and increasing irrelevance, he became the
perfect leader for New York City in the most challenging of times. Informed, consoling and human, he was
able to re-gain the trust and admiration of the many New Yorkers who had recently written him off.
In contrast, consider the Silicon Valley company CEO, as recounted in a recent issue of Fortune
magazine, who was stranded away from his office in the aftermath of September 11, but didn’t contact anyone
at his company for two days. Upon his return, a short speech about the events was prefaced by the remark
that he wasn’t going to “pretend to be anyone’s spiritual advisor.” It’s hard to imagine that this CEO ever had
the trust and admiration of his team.
During challenging times – due to economic, national or natural crises – trust is fostered through the
honesty and consistency of deeds and words. That’s crisis management 101. But the real question is: should
it really take a crisis to prod leaders to explore, identify, and act consistently upon their core set of values?
Leaders need to have a strong personal brand through good times and bad. Defining yours and
bringing it to life through consistency in action is something that today’s best business leaders instinctively
recognize, whether they articulate it or not. And the ability to build and demonstrate a compelling personal
brand will continue to be a critical career success factor, whether you’re starting, changing or optimizing your
career.
How does one go about building a personal brand? The underlying principles are the same as those
applied to the branding of a soft drink, an automobile, or a technological service. Recognize your personal
strengths and gifts, think about how you best connect with people, consider what your target audience needs
and wants, identify the value you deliver to meet those needs and wants, and communicate in a way that
reaches your constituents in their hearts and minds and via the channels that work best for you. And most
importantly, recognize the gaps in your personal brand and invest the time and energy to overcome those
gaps.
On one hand, you have the functional aspects of a personal brand. A leader’s functional brand promise
is to deliver successful, objective results: to achieve profitable growth, to introduce a consistently successful
array of new products to the market, or to reduce costs. What’s more elusive to identify, much less to build,
are the intangibles or the emotional benefits of a personal brand: being an inspirational visionary, an articulate
communicator, or for most of us, simply being a compelling and confidence-inspiring leader.
But make no mistake. It’s the emotional benefits delivered through your personal brand that make the
difference between being seen simply as an able business-person and being seen as a true leader.
A personal brand is incomplete if it’s built by emphasizing either functional or emotional qualities alone.
These qualities must work in tandem. Proficient functional skills and the ensuing results establish your
credibility. The emotional benefits broaden the value you deliver. If built upon functional attributes alone, your
brand risks a similar fate as products that slip into commodity status. You will be evaluated on a checklist of
attributes and will be seen as being far less nimble and flexible if the markets, industry or external events turn
against you.
How many times have we seen the whiz kid from finance or the guru from marketing ascend to the top
spot, only to flounder in a role that requires more than just functional skills and results? Douglas Ivester at
Coca-Cola, for example, had established an enviable record as an operational whiz while serving as the No. 2
to CEO Roberto Goizueta. Few questioned Ivester’s functional prowess or begrudged his contributions to
Coca-Cola’s success. But some questioned his intangibles for the CEO’s chair. As it turned out, Ivester never
identified the gaps in his personal brand and was never able to establish the value of his leadership style.
Over the course of his two-year tenure as CEO, concerns about his management style and Coke’s business
difficulties were both blamed for knocking billions off the company’s value. When he mishandled a series of
issues ranging from a racial discrimination case to tainted product in Belgium, he lost the confidence of Coca-
Cola’s constituencies altogether and resigned abruptly from the job that he had always wanted. From a
business perspective, the timing was odd -- Coca-Cola’s numbers were improving, but from a brand
perspective, the company and Ivester realized that his brand just wasn’t delivering any emotional value. And
Coca-Cola learned that the concept of brand applies to its people as well as its products.
Warren Buffett, on the other hand, has created his functional brand as an investor who successfully
capitalizes on value investments – with consistent and fully-realized personal traits of the homespun
Everyman. (Never mind that he’s one of the richest men in the world.) He lives up to his brand promise on the
functional end by delivering results, achieving an enviable five-year growth rate for Berkshire Hathaway. He
also has achieved emotional relevance through the consistency of his actions and his championing of issues
that connect with his constituents. In recent years, for example, he’s been a vocal critic of both inflated CEO
salaries (his salary is $100,000 a year), as well as actions that undermine the true measures of value investing,
such as the liberal use of stock options in executive pay packages. Mr. Buffet’s brand is a complete one – and
what’s more impressive, he has maintained it extremely well over several decades. In the face of the most
recent terrorist acts, he candidly described the significant business impact, while confidently articulating and
sticking to his long-term strategy.
The key word in all this is consistency. Whether you’re building a product brand or a personal brand,
you need to demonstrate consistency across all internal and external interactions. It is important for leaders to
realize that everything they say and do is working to either build or denigrate their brand. As with consumer
products, a personal brand is a set of expectations and associations that are developed and delivered upon
over time. The best leaders are conscious of this and not only focus on developing complete personal brands,
but use them consistently, in every interaction, as a personal compass.

Brenda Smith (bsmith@prophet.com) is Managing Partner of the New York office of Prophet (www.prophet.com ),
a leading professional services firm that helps clients better manage their brands as a strategic asset. She has
more than 15 years of brand and business strategy expertise, across the financial services,
telecommunications, and consumer industries. John Kelly (jkelly@prophet.com) is a Senior Associate in the
New York office of Prophet. He has more than seven years of experience in brand strategy, marketing, and
advertising across a range of consumer and business-to-business categories. Prophet is headquartered in San
Francisco; other offices are also located in Chicago and London.

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