During the past decade, CEOs of tech companies have become just as popular as music and movie stars. How come? How does it show? What are the consequences?
1- The Steve Jobs way
In 1983, Steve Jobs held his first keynote presentation, unveiling the commercial for the Apple II. Fast forward to 2001, the man introduces his fellow music lovers to a device that will forever change the face of this industry: the iPod. It wasn’t enough for the product to be outstanding; it also had to be presented in a way that would resonate in the minds of every person on the face of the Earth. It was such a hit that from that point on, every product announcement became an event. People came by the hundreds (and later on, thousands) to watch Steve Jobs himself talk about what new groundbreaking technology Apple was going to release. In the span of ten years, from the iPod launching event in 2001 to his death in 2011, Jobs became a legend, a public figure and the most beloved CEO in history. Today, his legacy extends far beyond Apple as CEOs from around the world have started walking the same path.
2- The trend
After Steve Jobs had passed away, CEOs from all corners of Silicon Valley started imitating him: every time they wanted to launch a new product, they organized a presentation, made an event out of it and showed up personally to talk about their innovations. Steve Ballmer, ex-CEO of Microsoft and Bill Gates’ successor, is well known for his more-than-enthusiastic arrivals on stage, which reduced his credibility and earned him the nickname “Microsoft’s Mr Monkey Boy.” Other than his public antics, not much is remembered of his 14-year-long reign over Gates’ company. When Ballmer stepped down in February 2014, Satya Nadella took his place. This unknown man suddenly became the talk of the town, every magazine, website and news outlet was talking about him, and the tech community spent weeks analyzing his background and the impact it will have on the company. Since then, every new Microsoft product report features a paragraph or two about Nadella’s past and how it influenced the creation of said product.
It is no news that CEOs, their behavior and their background often affect their company’s value on the stock market, but their recent rise to stardom has greatly magnified their impact. To sum this up, just picture this: every time Tim Cook, Jobs’ successor, goes on stage, Apple’s stock drops. This phenomenon is directly linked to the attention that people now give to the personality of the speaker, not just the quality of the product announced. Buying or investing in technology has never been more emotional since consumers and investors now have personal biases towards brands because of their CEOs
One of the early adopters of this trend was Mark Zuckerberg. After founding Facebook in 2004 (initially called TheFacebook), the young man made the headlines across the world, and for many reasons. He was 19 when TheFacebook.com went online, making him the youngest pioneer of social media. When the company went international, the flagrant success of his platform and the change it was creating generated a lot of curiosity and envy. Closing his first billion at age 23, he became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire which boosted the hype he was already getting. Today, Mark is the face of his network, all the strategic decisions and new technologies are credited to him, and whenever Facebook announces changes his name comes first on the bill. He is a public figure, idol and model. His rise to fame inspired millions of software and applications developers to try to become the next big CEO in tech.
4- The consequences
Since then, every new successful application or software has seen its creator take the spotlight. This fame is a double-edged sword though; as creators get younger by the year, their experience in management and publicity is usually close to zero. A good example would be Evan Spiegel, CEO and creator of Snapchat. When he launched his application in July 2011, it skyrocketed. Today, the 24-year-old is worth 1 Billion dollars. However, you will hear more about his offensive college emails and spoiled childhood than his accomplishments as CEO.
Other older Silicon Valley tycoons are following Jobs’ footsteps, like Jeff Bezos, who saw fit to announce new products and features of Amazon himself after years behind the scenes. The problem here is that most of these novelties are not well received by the public. Result: every time he takes the stage, the internet spends a great amount of time criticizing his decisions and blaming him, focusing on the negative aspect of his product.
One of the rare exceptions today is Google, which took the good side of the trend – the events, the conferences and the hype- only leaving out the problematic part, CEOs going public too often.
Tech CEOs are the new rock stars indeed, bathing in fame and money, their presentations are like concerts, their decisions are received like new albums and their personal life is on display. They are public figures, an inspiration for many and a target of criticism for others. People stopped wanting to be entertainers, they want to be tech CEOs now.