The Importance of Strong Personal Brands in Executive Positions

June 16, 2021
Borderless Leadership - article

Anthony Harling

Jeff Bezos famously said that your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. For the executives that you and I usually meet in our talent search work, it’s very true. How do you see personal branding when it relates to executive careers?

Els De Cremer

If you think about personal branding and analyse why it is essential and why it is relevant, you start to understand the power personal branding holds. Telling a story as an executive, in your own, unique way really makes you stand out. And in our transparent, digitized world it becomes highly visible.

A personal brand is an excellent vehicle for your authentic story. It’s not about creating a nice image for yourself with smoke and mirrors; it must relate to who you are, what you stand for, your values, and how you have evolved through personal experience.

Take the example of Jim Fitterling, the current CEO of Dow Chemical. He became the CEO in 2018. Years before, as he rose through the ranks of Dow, he used the National Coming Out Day in the US to make public the fact that he is gay. Today, we might all say, “So what?”. However, the chemical industry is inherently conservative, so this was a unique event. Jim continued to build his personal story in his very authentic way – directly linked to who he is. He doesn’t just communicate the diversity message, he is seen to be taking action on diversity, inclusion, and equality. When you hear Jim speak on any occasion, you are certain that statements about diversity, inclusion and equality will be part of what he has to say. His authentic story has not only strengthened his personal brand, but also reaped many benefits for Dow, positioning it as a company where these things matter.

Another example is Solvay. When the board decided to recruit their new CEO, they had a clear mission: reform Solvay, bring it up to date as a company and ensure it becomes more customer centric.

Eventually, Solvay recruited Ilham Kadri, who has been actively building her personal brand. She’s very different from the typical executive. With her Moroccan roots, and as a woman, she had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get to a senior position. Diversity was already a part of her story that she could combine with customer-centricity. From the broader business community to customers and suppliers, she created a natural dynamic. By choosing her, the company’s message to the market was “the new Solvay means business”.

Having a valuable and authentic story to tell influences the type of talent you attract, how you do business and how you are positioned in the market. Your story has a natural ripple effect, it impacts everything you do within the industry. Jim Fitterling and Ilham Kadri are great examples of how a leader with a personal brand, who is authentic, can stand-out.

Interested in communicating your personal brand? Get in touch with Borderless today!

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