Is the purpose of a CEO to lead a company or to lead investors? Is the purpose of a CEO to manage public perception or lead internal direction? Must a high level position like CEO demand a deep technical knowledge of the details of the worker-bee side of the business? Must the CEO of Kraft Foods be able to bake? Can the CEO of Brooks Brothers wear Levis jeans on vacation? Would it ever be acceptable for the CEO of Baskin Robbins to be lactose intolerant?
Over the past week Yahoo! and Facebook have both been called out by the press for their CEO-related dramas. And both of these dramas are frankly, ridiculous.
I was always told that my BA degree was just a piece of paper. After that first few years on the job, we are measured by our performance and capability.
Yet Yahoo!'s board looks to be crying holy hell over a mix-up regarding what their CEO's declared major college major. This strikes me as ridiculous for two reasons. Firstly, it doesn't take a highly technical person to run a tech company. It takes a leader who understands the business to run the business side of the shop. And secondly, a CEO should not be qualified or disqualified by their bachelors degree. If someone was the right man for the job last week, why would it matter whether or not he learned to code in the 1980s?
Mark Zuckerberg has always marched to the beat of an informal drummer. The Facebook corporate persona is laid back in dress and dead serious about hard work and great code. With this corporate persona, Zuckerberg has used his vision and commitment to build the world's largest owned-and-operated social network boasting almost 1 in 6 people on the planet as users.
Yet Zuckerbeg and Facebook have taken some serious heat regarding their approach to investors as they ramp up to their IPO. After all, why would investors really want to invest in a company whose CEO shows up in a hoodie?
Better yet, why not?
Why must a CEO look and feel like he belongs on Wall Street to have a successful business? In a business driven by user adoption and commitment, why are so many investors and media focusing on short term revenues and dress code superficialities?
If Facebook walked and talked like an investment bank, they wouldn't have become Facebook. So why do investment bankers take to the press over Facebook's breach of Wall Street etiquette?
The Role Of The CEO
The role of the CEO is to lead the company. Apple's CEO should first and foremost be a leader and in Apple's world, he should be a dynamic presenter. He must also have an appreciation for manufacturing, design and technology, but he need not be an expert in all of the above.
Kraft's CEO must be a great leader and have an appreciation for the corporate culture, for providing great food experiences. He must appreciate all of the various components that drive the business, but he need not be a great cook.
Yahoo! is not in the 1980s code business. They are a legacy company seeking engineer a product and marketing transformation in a very different market. They need a CEO with a different perspective, a real product focus and a very inspiring personality. Public swipes at the CEO over items in his resume going back 30 years do nothing for share price and they do little for the long term success of the company.
Facebook is in the business of transformation through human connections and communications. Facebook needs a CEO who is driven by this goal, and appreciates all of the other components of the business (such as investment). If they got this far with a corporate culture that clashes in wardrobe with Wall Street, why would anyone want to change it?