As a long time image consultant, who mostly works with Silicon Valley based entrepreneurs and executives, I’ve pondered the brouhaha that erupted this past week everywhere in the media, even in Paris where I’ve been visiting, when Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg showed up wearing a hoodie to meet with Wall Street investment brokers.
Zuckerberg wore that trademark hoodie on purpose to make a statement to Facebook employees and to investors alike. I have no doubt that he wanted to communicate to his employees that, although the company is about to go public, the culture from the top down is not about to change. A change to his appearance could have signaled other unintended messages. Investors drawn to the company are likely enticed by the company’s ways of doing business, and could similarly be turned off by signals that the company would change its approach to business, including in Zuck’s appearance.
The hoodie symbolizes cultural equality in Silicon Valley, where income disparity within corporate cultures is vast. Zuck wants to be known more for his brains and building rather than for his big bucks. Those famous hoodies he wears are not luxe brands. I’m judging that they may be Costco purchases: low cost items with visible logos, as if intentionally chosen so you know he’s just like the guy in the next cubicle who picked one up there, too. Depending on who’s wearing them and what brand they are, hoodies also represent business status levels. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen garnered press about Sand Hill Road’s style of wearing cashmere hoodies.
When it comes to Silicon Valley and Wall Street, there is a style culture clash. Get over it everyone. The best thing about this clash is a sense of freedom and individuality. The worst thing about it is a complete lack of respect and understanding of each other’s cultures. Wall Street is upset because Zuck didn’t respect its protocol. He went there asking for the support of the investors. He’ll get it anyway. He should have shown more respect. It’s humble. Instead, he showed hubris, even though people will invest in his company.
Zuck may have the hubris to have worn the hoodie on Wall Street, but should you wear it on Main Street? The thing that comes up with my clients all the time is how Apple’s Steve Jobs famously wore Issey Miyake black mock neck knit tops, faded jeans, and sneakers, and now Zuck’s hoodies. These guys are Silicon Valley icons in their own right. They’re also not Wall Street icons. Not everyone can pull it off, nor should they. Can you? Should you?
I always tell my clients to develop a look that is respectful of the audience and of the occasion while remaining true to their true spirit. There’s no question that impressions matter. Had Zuck shown up in a suit and tie to Wall Street, little attention would have been paid by anyone on Wall Street. And that’s precisely the point to image management. How you behave, what you wear, and how you communicate are all in context with the business at hand. Zuck showed up on Wall Street like he was about to enjoy a crepe at Le Grainne Café in Chelsea on Sunday morning. It was out of context.
A judgment, opinion, or “formed impression” of another person, after all, is a feeling. For all the intentioned purpose that Zuck put into the wearing of his hoodie, it was out of place for the audience and occasion. His audience formed an impression, questioning his maturity and ability to lead. His employees probably wouldn’t have freaked out if he looked the part for a Wall Street meeting. After all, is Sheryl Sandberg the only senior company official capable of dressing with obvious style? Investors likely wouldn’t have walked away from a semi-tailored Zuckerberg. Rather, they may have felt a sense of maturity of the man and of the business of which he is the face.
It is important to be well received, no matter who you are. It feels good, and it’s good business to have a positive reputation and brand.
This recurring hoodie situation both on and off Wall Street is problematic for Zuckerberg and for Facebook. Facebook users, investors, employees, and cultural critics including the general public are, in varying degrees, weighing in about Zuckerberg’s appearance, focusing too much on how young, rich, and invincible he [may think he] is. It’s an ironic disservice to his company to have this hoodie issue hanging over his head when, no doubt he’d rather be changing the world.
The world knows Zuckerberg has the brains to have built Facebook, but has yet to develop visual charisma. Man should not be visually defined by hoodie alone. Every amazing leader I’ve ever worked with has taken an interest in their personal development in the area of impression management. It enhances their personal success in life. Mark you’ve done so well all ready: I’m expecting your call.
Curious to learn how to exude your personal brand with style? Set up a free strategy session to map out a successful plan with me. Visit my contact page and send me a message today.