Rock Star CEOs Can Put Brands at Risk

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This week Apple, Inc. founder Steve P. Jobs passed away from pancreatic cancer.  He was 56.

While Jobs’ death sparked a global media frenzy, his passing did not go totally unexpected.   In fact, the former Pixar CEO had a couple of health scares in the past, even taking a leave of absence in 2009 when he underwent a liver transplant.   During that time, Apple shares dropped nearly three percent, slashing roughly $10 billion off the company’s value.

Apple’s stock fluctuated on Thursday after Job’s death was announced but held positive at the close.  Apple’s stock today closed down a little more than two percent.  News on the street, however, is that investors already factored in the fact that Steve Jobs wasn’t going to be around at Apple for the long run.  

The trouble with iconic executives such as Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Carly Fiorina is that they’re connected too closely to the company’s brand, putting the organization at risk if they abruptly leave or resign.  In addition to stock fluctuations, celebrity executives may affect business decisions as in the case with Fiorina who stepped down as HP’s CEO in 2005 amid a firestorm of negative media coverage.

The consensus of business experts is that CEOs are best to avoid the spotlight and focus interviews on the company rather than themselves.  This may be true of Jobs, but his celebrity always took center stage and he was seen as the true heart and soul of the company.

The transition has begun as Tim Cook officially took the reins from Steve Jobs last month.  Maybe he was being groomed all along?  Who knows? The reality is that companies with rock star CEOs need to take heed and start planning some kind of legacy strategy to circumvent any potential future hiccups.

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