One of the often forgotten duties of a CEO is to assure the strength of the corporate brand and improve the optics surrounding the company to maximize shareholder value. Many, if not most, pass this duty off to the CMO, who then uses marketing to perform this duty. However, the CEO is generally thought to be the face of a company and thus has far more direct power to get this job done.
Sadly, because this task is difficult and forces them into the public eye more than they’d like, most CEOs appear to avoid this responsibility.
One notable exception is Intel’s Brian Krzanich. He seemed to grasp both the facts that this was his responsibility and that there was a critical need that he step up personally to address it.
Since CEOs don't do this as often as they once did and because we mostly spend time calling out executives when they mess up rather than when they do the right thing, I’d like to discuss why this is so important.
Why So Many CEOs Fail
At the heart of most CEO failures lies an irony: one of the most powerful skills that likely got them to the job works against them once they hold it. That skill is self-promotion.
You see, in any large company, there are a lot of people who could be considered for the top job. But generally, the person who gets it is the one that assured he or she got the most credit for the work he or she did. Yes, CEOs build supporters on their way up, but unless you are a company founder, advancing to the top requires spending a great deal of time assuring your image is consistent with the CEO role.
Once people get the job, however, they then need to pivot this skill and become cheerleaders for their firm and those that report to them. They go from being measured on how they are perceived to being measured on how their company and organization are perceived. And if their teams and firms are perceived poorly, it doesn’t matter how hard the CEOs have worked or what their personal accomplishments are, they are typically asked or forced to step down.
And when that happens, their future opportunities as an executive often disappear, unless they fund something with their own money.
Grove and Gates
Arguably, Intel’s most storied CEO was Andy Grove. As successful as he was, he did have a list of notable failures, in my opinion. One was video conferencing. One was doing a deal with Steve Jobs. And finally, after leaving Intel, he tried and failed to get the US government to raise protection for the US technology market to a higher level. It seemed he didn’t build the relationships he needed to build during his tenure as CEO to be as effective as he wanted after he left that job.
He isn’t alone.
Bill Gates, as powerful as he is, had far more power and influence as CEO of Microsoft than he does running one of the most financially powerful philanthropic trusts in the world.
This suggests that if CEOs want to make a big difference after they stop being CEOs, they must first build the needed influence while they have the company behind them. And while they are still CEOs, they need to use this influence to help the company. After they leave, if they do it right, they can use this influence to build a better world.
I use both these men as examples because both were unusually successful, both were founders and both are still widely regarded as the best chief executives of their respective firms.
I recall one of the most powerful and wealthy men in Silicon Valley lamenting the fact that his friends enjoyed his wealth more than he did. While he still had an impressive office, no one really cared what he had to say once he stepped out of his leadership position. "Happy" was not a word I’d connect with his post-career life.
This takes us to Brian Krzanich, who has recently become a visible CEO on Trump’s technology council, and has been personally going on the road to talk about Intel’s unique place in the market.
Intel is far more than a chip vendor; they have licensed technology in legacy industries like manufacturing and emerging industries like autonomous cars and IoT. But as an ingredient brand and a historical PC vendor, Intel seems to have difficulty getting credit for what they now do. One thing Andy Grove did well was establish Intel as a PC vendor. But given that this is an ever-smaller part of what Krzanich’s Intel now does, Intel now needs to dig out from under that old image.
Thus, if this increasingly impressive effort that ranges from drones (Intel was a major part of the recent Super Bowl halftime show) and TV shows (they had their own maker show) continues to improve and broaden Intel’s image, it will also build a foundation of influence that Krzanich can use once he has left the CEO job. In short, by doing this, he isn’t just helping Intel, I believe he is assuring a future of influence for himself. Often doing the right thing can be impressively beneficial personally. I think that if more CEOs realized this. more would take this path.
And it is a path I, for one, want them to take.
One of the most famous things out of Intel isn’t a product — it is Moore’s Law. It isn’t really a law — it is more of a prediction that has held true for decades on technology advancement.
I’d like to propose a new Law, Krzanich’s Law, which states that CEOs who focus on building their companies' brands and influence do more to assure their own future success than those that focus on maximizing their own compensation and personal recognition.
Thinking strategically is an increasingly rare trait in any executive. But a CEO who wants a life after being CEO needs to consider that building influence to increase the stature of his or her firm will pay both short-term personal dividends and long-term dividends for life after being CEO.
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