It’s rare when I observe Meg Whitman, in her capacity as CEO of HP, and think that she looks attractive. Or stylish. I can’t help but think that she could better accomplish a turnaround for HP if she presented a more polished, contemporary look.
When it comes to personal style, it’s so easy to “dog” HP’s Meg Whitman. In fact, people who enjoy my strong criticisms of people’s personal styles have been waiting for the moment when I’d profile Meg Whitman. And it is easy to go on the attack about her style. So, I’m not going to do that. Criticism is an important ability for an image consultant to possess. But, criticism isn’t productive without positive reinforcement, and suggestions and solutions to improve her situation.
For all those who love Meg Whitman as a CEO or as a political hopeful, it’s important to note that my criticisms aren’t about her management style, her politics, or about her being female. In these profile observations, I strive to be fair, balanced, and highlight a variety of prominent Silicon Valley senior executive leaders.
Leadership management professionals concur that Meg Whitman’s cumulative early management experience made her successful as a corporate leader. As a brand manager at Procter & Gamble, she put the customer first. Then she learned about the art of collaboration as a management consultant at Bain. The leadership experts say that she is a pro at building relationships, learning, listening, and using her influence to validate both employee and customer experiences.
I’ll let the leadership management consultants decide how well those qualities are serving her in her role as HP’s CEO. But I will touch on these perceived personal characteristics and whether she pulls them into her visual personal style.
Meg Whitman would look more engaging than she typically does if she paid better attention to the colors she wears. To do this, she needs to wear stronger and deeper colors than what we typically see her wear. Colors in an outfit that are higher contrast to her hair and skin tone would make her look more influential. I would also play up heavily on her eye color. If you haven’t seen her eyes, they are an amazing gray-blue color. This color combination evokes a physiological response that she listens to others, and that she analyzes situations. Focusing on the eye color really helps her exude a set of core competencies and strengths.
As for her clothing style, she does well wearing jackets, either as part of a suit, or as low-contrasting separates. As a uniform of sorts, this is more than appropriate for her role at HP. I like her appearance best when she introduces a scarf print beneath the jacket collar. It helps to frame her face, and makes her look more engaging and active. The danger of wearing too much gray is that she could appear passive. So boosting color and pattern in conjunction with the gray colors would help her to look less passive. As a result of caring about the interaction she’s having with someone, she could increase her influence.
As for how Whitman manages the balance of her appearance – her hair and skin – she doesn’t seem to do much. What’s really too bad about this is that she can leave others thinking that if she doesn’t care enough to manage her hairstyle or to properly apply makeup, she’d not apt to care about other obvious details, no matter how big or small.
To be fair, running and restructuring a company requires strategic thinking, especially because thousands of jobs hang in the balance. Also, the way the company does business can fundamentally change, as can the customer experience. But, as a public face of the company, and as its chief executive, Meg Whitman has a responsibility to take a few minutes every day to manage her personal appearance and style.
At her level, this is not a pageant contest, nor is it even about attractiveness or stylishness for its own sake. Yet I will say this: people who are not naturally attractive mitigate this weakened visual personality power point when they look stylish. This describes exactly why it is so easy to “dog” Meg Whitman and her personal image.
On the campaign trail, and likely with the funds from campaign donations, it was easier and more accessible for Meg Whitman to have access to dressers, shoppers, hairstylists, and makeup artists. I say it’s more accessible because it comes with the territory when running for high public office. Also, she put a lot of her own money into that campaign, and I take that to mean that she’d have done all it would take to connect with voters, including managing her visual image and brand.
Still, as CEO of even a huge public company, Meg Whitman is back to being a private citizen with a very public persona. She, and other men and women like her, ought to give very serious consideration to getting assistance in managing her personal style, brand, and image because she’s still on a campaign to turn around her company. To be successful at this goal, it is going to take everything she has to make it work.