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What Makes a CEO a Brand Leader?

At DPK Public Relations, we work with company CEOs and presidents to become living embodiments of their brands. If you want your brand to be seen as leading edge, you need to project an image that is leading edge. Get a nice haircut, a tailored suit and a quality watch. If you want your brand to be seen as friendly and approachable, it''s probably not a good idea to be driving around in a Maserati.

What are the characteristics of a "brand leader?" According to Chief Executive Magazine and consulting firm Lippincott Mercer, there are nine potential characteristics that executives should strive for:

  • Customer experience
  • Foresight and innovation
  • Brand investment
  • Brand importance
  • Brand image management
  • Measuring and monitoring
  • Marketplace vitality
  • Design
  • Organizational stature

That''s a pretty good list and it''s worth asking how your chief executive stacks up. But the analysis that determined the list of the top 25 CEO brand leaders, which is featured in the October 2005 issue of Chief Executive, didn''t end there. Next, a “short list” was compiled of 100 companies that have earned worldwide recognition for a relevant dimension, such as being a “most admired company.” Finally, using those building blocks, a web-based survey was used to query approximately 450 corporate and marketing executives.

Here''s the top 25:

 1. Apple Computer Steve Jobs
 2. Starbucks  Jim Donald
 3. Dell  Kevin Rollins
 4. eBay  Meg Whitman
 5. Harley Davidson  James Ziemer
 6.FedEx  Fred Smith
 7. Amazon.com  Jeff Bezos
 8. Southwest Airlines  Gary Kelly
 9. Virgin  Richard Branson
 10. Nike  Bill Perez
 11. Google  Eric Schmidt
 12. Target  Robert Ulrich
 13. Coca-Cola  E. Neville Isdell
 14. JetBlue Airways  David Neeleman
 15. Walt Disney  Michael Eisner
 16. American Express  Kenneth Chenault
 17. Anheuser-Busch  Patrick Stokes
 18. Microsoft  Steve Ballmer 
 19. BMW  Helmut Panke
 20. Wal-Mart  H. Lee Scott Jr.
 21. Procter & Gamble  A.G. Lafley
 22. McDonald’s  Jim Skinner
 23. Polo Ralph Lauren  Ralph Lauren 
 24. UPS  Mike Eskew
 25. Marriott International  Bill Marriott Jr.

Okay, there are a few in there (Michael Eisner?) that might raise some eyebrows, but for the most part this list is a great reminder of the importance of integrating the image of the CEO with the image of the brand. Certainly three out of the top four -- Jobs, Donald and Whitman -- illustrate the point. Richard Branson may take it a step too far, but it seems to work.

"One very interesting issue raised in this ranking is whether CEOs should use their own personalities to help brand their products," said Chief Executive Magazine Editor in Chief William J. Holstein, who oversaw the ranking process. "In the cases of Steve Jobs and certainly Richard Branson, it works fabulously well for them. But the majority of CEOs rely on teams and processes and are relucant to inject their own personalities. The common thread is that all of these top brand leaders have a knack for what the customer wants, sometimes even before the customer knows it. That instinct may ultimately be more important than whether they choose to use their own personalities or not."

Dan Keeney
(832) 467-2904
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Author: Dan Keeney
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