It’s striking how Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t evolved his image and style one bit, despite his immense business success. Though his character portrayal was fascinating in the Golden Globe-winning movie, The Social Network, it’s not the basis of my assessment. The real life Mark Zuckerberg still dresses like a scrappy college dormitory resident, despite his meteoric ascent to the height of the business world. Age notwithstanding, it’s time for him to put effort and intention into his image and show that he’s not just grown up, but a leader.
For a man whose company is reportedly valued at $50 billion, and whose personal net worth is in the neighborhood of $14 billion, maintaining the same hoodies, T-shirts, and disheveled hair has not evolved his image into the look of responsibility and respect.
This issue regularly plagues the high technology sector. It’s common for young talented people to pull countless caffeine infused all-nighters in pursuit of developing the Next Big Thing. Silicon Valley outsiders don’t appreciate the subculture that generates its competitiveness, its success, and its ability to sustain itself as a haven for innovation. It’s simply a non-traditional place.
When a person seeks to become successful here, certain traditional business concepts become important. It takes having a knockout idea that promises to make a lot of money to impress an investor. Making the proper presentation to demonstrate the idea is crucial to winning backing from an investor. But the third point – the third rail of impressing an investor – often flies over the heads of many otherwise highly intelligent individuals. One of the most important ways to impart polish in a presentation is to have good people skills and to dress the part.
I read what many outsiders and critics say of Silicon Valley style and how they use the example of Zuckerberg’s dress style to highlight all they think is wrong with our lifestyle. They are from New York and London, and they dream and drool about what they’d do with a man who’s made it to the top of the Big Time. They presume to know just what he ought to wear as if they know him all ready – as if putting him into a particular jacket solves his collegiate image issues and transforms him into a man like he just had a second Bar Mitzvah.
They haven’t even contemplated how the way he graces the cover of Time magazine as its Person of the Year is not so much a disgrace as it is appropriate around his internal staff. At issue is what is best saved for his personal face versus his public facing image.
People ask what I’d do with Mark Zuckerberg as a client of my image consulting practice. My approach is not judgmental. Just because he’s worth a certain number doesn’t mean he should wear a specific brand or a pre-determined style that I tell him. What’s clear is that he deserves to give his image and style some focus. If he worked on this project with me, we would work together to determine what his evolved style is and what it needs to convey now and going forward.
One does not smoothly transition from hooded sweatshirts into sportcoats or suits unless that style is authentic to the individual. And too many critics want him to do this: pronto.
There are other styles of clothing out there, and other ways to improve his image in ways that are comfortable, maintainable, and sustainable. It has to require some curiosity on his part, or even the part of Facebook’s head of corporate communications.
Anyone looking to become the Next Big Thing in Silicon Valley ought to consider the importance of developing a competitive personal image and style in order to look responsible and show respect for those whose business and financing you are after.
There’s nothing like being real and keeping it real. But reality changes as your circumstances improve. So to Mark Zuckerberg, it’s time to show an evolution in your image because your circumstances have absolutely changed for the best.
Joseph Rosenfeld helps high-profile individuals revitalize, manage, and be secure in their personal visual brand. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.