Friday 21 February 2014

Weekly Wrap Up: All Eyes on the Tech CEO

This week, The New York times ran an article questioning why the pay packets of those on Wall Street were so widely criticized when the bonuses of Technology CEOs go largely unnoticed. The article pointed to Google’s compensation committee awarding the former CEO and current Chairman, Mr Eric Schmidt, $100 million in restricted stock, plus a further $6 million in cash last month; that’s a lot of Google Glasses for his family next Christmas. Whilst the eyes of the world were clearly on Mr Schmidt’s pay packet, the generosity of the committee passed largely unscrutinised.

Now, arguably the public have more reason to resent the high-fliers in the Financial World after the woes of 2008 compared to their counterparts in the Tech World; one gave us the tax bill for their bank bailouts and the other? Moshi Monsters.

And the anger is not just confined to our friends across the pond. There was outrage when Barclays announced that sky-high bonuses would be awarded to their CEOs at a time when they were about to cut their workforce due to falling profits. Incidentally, this was the same week that widely publicised reports discussed how the minimum wage has failed to keep up with inflation, forcing those over 21yrs to struggle on £6.31 per hour.

But what of the perception of the people behind the paychecks?

We all know that banking CEOs have long been demonized and that anger has been directed towards not only their pack checks, but also at them. Tech CEOs, on the other hand, have been glorified and publicised as heros.

Take Mark Zuckerberg. When Facebook came into the public eye he was portrayed as the awkward boy next door; he had come from nothing, had a great idea, worked hard and deserved his fortunes. People tend to like the tech start-up story: the idea of entrepreneurial genius crafting a trade in his (or her) parents’ garage.

Are the tides turning on those in Tech?

When Facebook announced their $16bn plus acquisition of the cross-border messaging service, Whatsapp, headlines did start to focus in on the CEOs behind the deals, and the pay-packages that they were now due to receive. For example, The Guardian ran a story: “Beware the WhatsApp hype: Mark Zuckerberg is no benevolent overlord”. Zuckerberg was accused of trying to take over the world with his Facebook empire, attempting to monopolise a market that would be far healthier, and less ‘bubble-prone’, if there were a range of competition. Does this sound familiar? IS THIS A PROBLEM?

One may be temped to ask: so what? Maybe it is time that Tech CEOs should face some of the questions being faced by the leaders of banking? Perhaps this would stop them making the same mistakes?

However, perhaps this demonization of Tech CEO needs to be stopped before it gains too much momentum. Why? Because they are our role models.

In a recovering economic environment it is absolutely vital that all levels of society are inspired to think, innovate, consider and, one day, become future CEOs. SMEs are going to continue driving the UK forwards in terms of recovery and future growth. For this to happen, however, those at school need to want to ‘grow up to be’ the next Zuckerberg, and turn their bedroom-born idea into a multi-million pound success story.

So can we stop this demonization occuring?

Tech CEOs can take action to ensure that the perceptions of both their Companies and themselves are positive. This is not only important to help fuel the UK's economic recovery, with inspired young minds looking to replicate their tech CEO predecessors, but also to the companies themselves. The investment story of the Company is not so detached from the CEO, and valuations can be affected by the public perception of a Company’s leader. Just look at Bob Diamond: Barclays realised the damage that his reputation and demonization was doing to the bank, and he was ousted.

A common tool in the armoury of many communications professionals is now to position CEOs as “experts for comment” and encourage CEOs to feature in columns like the “How I Made It” in The Sunday Times Business section. This gives our industry leaders the platform to explain what inspired them to become a CEO, and how they did it. The positive public perception can then help them weather any storms or controversies that may subsequently appear in the press. If they are considered a pioneer and an inspiration, the public may be more forgiving.

So the benefits of protecting the reputation of Tech CEOs are twofold: it can benefit the Company and offer considerable value to society and economic growth; young people will be more likely to turn around and say “when I grow up I want to be a Technology company CEO”.

Nomura, appointed David Hague as managing director in its EMEA Debt Capital Markets business. Hague previously ran the UK and Ireland FIG DCM department at RBS.

"Zuckbucks": A new pseudo currency, which Facebook uses to do almost anything it can to retain global mobile dominance. It’s not a limitless fund; the WhatsApp deal represents about 10% of the company’s market cap.

Travelling to the Wonderland: Xu Bing installation at the V&A Chinese artist Xu Bing’s fantasy garden ‘Tao Hua Yuan’ has charmed a wide range of Londoners with its beauty and detail. The installation, which looks magical at night, has transformed the pool of the V&A courtyard into a popular attraction.

Garden Museum An interesting exhibition that explores the relationships between fashion and gardening. With pieces loaned from museums and couture designers including the late Alexander McQueen, the show stands to impress and is available until 3 May.

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