An organisation’s corporate image is the picture that forms in the mind of the average person any time the name of the organisation is mentioned. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is one of the many variables that constitute that image. This explains why the image of the organisation often revolves around the CEO. In other words, the chief helmsman has the capability of either enhancing or ruining the organisation’s corporate image. This is so because the image of the organisation is always seen through him.
The extraordinary importance attached to the office of the CEO must be viewed against the background of the fact that consideration for appointment into that office goes beyond academic and professional qualifications. It is taken for granted that whoever occupies the office of the CEO must be academically and professionally qualified. Of equal importance, if not of more importance, is the character of the person occupying that office.
Perhaps, above every other consideration, the CEO must be an embodiment of integrity. He is constantly under severe scrutiny, especially outside the walls of the organisation. What he does, even within the confines of his house, could rub off positively or negatively on the image of the organisation that he heads. Any act of his that puts a question mark on his integrity automatically affects, in a negative way, the image of the organisation.
There are other considerations. How is he perceived by the organisation’s different publics? How does he relate with superiors and subordinates? How does he speak and laugh? What is his dress sense?
We have seen cases involving CEOs that were hitherto celebrated as success stories, but who ended up dragging their companies’ into the mud on account of their integrity deficiency.
A case in point was the unprecedented crash of the stocks of the former Lever Brothers in the early 2000 following allegations that the company had been doctoring its books under the supervision of the late Rufus Giwa, who had just left office as CEO. A similar allegation occurred at Cadbury under Bunmi Oni, a man who was then touted as one of the most promising managers the country could boast of.
Festus Odimegwu’s problem with Nigerian Breweries had nothing to do with integrity. If anything, Odimegwu, a first class honours graduate of Chemistry, was one of the best managers of his time, with impeccable character and integrity that was beyond doubt. He became a brand eroder for the Star brand when he allegedly got involved in the infamous Third Term project of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, a project that was quite unpopular with Nigerians. Heineken, the parent company of Nigerian Breweries, had to choose between him and the company.
It is not in all cases that the CEO’s problems with the company border on integrity, as in the first two cases cited above, or indiscretion, as in the case involving Odimegwu. A seemingly inconsequential issue like his social life; what he does outside official hours in such places as the club house, church, private party, etc, are of importance to the organisation. A little slip or a brief moment of indiscretion is enough to send him crashing to the floor and taking the company along. Cases abound all over the world of CEOs whose love life damaged their organisation’s image.
In the early 1990s, Jimmy Swaggard, a popular American televangelist, fell from grace to grass because of his romantic involvement with church secretary, Jessica Han. His crash led to the near disintegration of Praise The Lord Ministry. A most recent and perhaps the most celebrated of such cases was the one involving Dominique Straus-Khan, the erstwhile Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, whose brief sexual encounter with a maid in a New York hotel led to his unceremonious exit from the world financial institution and effectively blocked his chances of becoming the next French president.
The CEO carries with him, wherever he goes, the image of the organisation that he works for. That is why he has no privacy, and is the subject of media attention. While serious publications are interested in what he does in office, and how his activities impact on the company’s fortunes, soft-sell publications are only interested in what he does outside office. They are interested in the club he belongs; where he hangs out after official hours; who he hangs out with, especially his female companions, etc. They look out for his mistakes, not his triumphs. His public conduct must therefore be such that would impact positively on the image of the organisation.
In a way, both the CEO and the organisation benefit from the conduct of the former, if it is perceived positively by the public. While expectations from the organisation and the public keep him on his toes and make him conscious at all times of the need to be above board, the organisation ‘reaps’ from his good conduct.