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Telling a Powerful Brand Story Starts at the Top

By Kristy Gulsvig

Brendan Eich’s 10-day tenure as CEO of Mozilla is a reminder that a CEO’s personal values, particularly in the age of social media and transparency, should be in sync with the corporate brand. Mozilla’s vetting process apparently did not flag — or find — Eich’s 2008 $1,000 donation to Proposition 8 (opposing gay marriage in California) that led to public outcry and his resignation. To avoid this type of fiasco, it is important to bring brand strategy into all aspects of a business, including the recruitment and hiring of senior executives.

A brand is more than a marketing effort. An effective brand strategy guides the vision of the organization and influences significant business decisions. Especially in the age of the celebrity CEO, it is incredibly important for boards and executive teams to consider brand personality when choosing the “face” of a company. A CEO who embodies a brand can be a truly powerful force in energizing internal and external audiences around a common story — think Richard Branson of Virgin, or Jeff Bezos of Amazon. And as Mozilla has taught us, a leader who does not reflect the corporate brand will have to make a connection or risk being forced out.

View Mozilla Video.

Mozilla is an open-source computing organization best known for its Firefox internet browser. Today, its mission is “to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web.” In fact, the company has a lengthy manifesto on its website that preaches openness, collaboration, transparency and inclusiveness. Mozilla has a strong brand that is incorporated into its core statements, and seemingly into its operations.

With the brand as a reference point, it’s not difficult to see why Mozilla fans were aghast that the CEO had supported a highly divisive and heated political issue a few years ago. In the company’s discussion of Eich’s resignation, Mozilla acknowledges, “we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.”

In other words, Mozilla’s CEO did not fully reflect the organization’s brand promise.

Perhaps if Mozilla had evaluated its mission and values from the point of view of its employees and customers, it might have noted this conflict in values. Instead, Eich was chosen for other reasons: his technical expertise and his history as a co-founder of the company, among them. But in this instance, his soft traits did not meet the customers’ expectations of the Mozilla brand.

Now that the company must find another leader, the search team will likely put much more weight on how well Mozilla’s new leader can communicate and live out this brand’s manifesto.