The other day, a friend asked what I thought of Elon Musk. That sort of threw me for a loop. My friend’s not a tech industry guy; he’s actually in construction.
I told him pretty much what I write in my columns: that I think Musk’s plans for Tesla tend to be overly grandiose. He doesn’t execute particularly well. He’ll probably hit a wall before long, probably over the Model 3.
After all, if you can’t make money making a few $100,000 cars for rich people, you’re never going to make it trying to scale hundreds of thousands of low-cost cars for the masses.
“OK,” said my friend, unfazed, “But isn’t SpaceX cool?”
The fad-like quality with which we idolize “rock star” entrepreneurs and CEOs is weird and unsettling. The problem is that people tend to hoist them up on crazy high pedestals, whether they deserve to be up there or not. And let me tell you, it’s a long way down when they fall off, as they inevitably do.
Musk. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh. Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos. I can see why they do it. Why not make a name for yourself and raise tons of capital at sky-high valuations, have a cult stock with a nearly infinite P/E ratio, or sell your company for $1 billion.
But why do we do it? It simply makes no sense to idolize CEOs like they’re Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga or Tony Robbins. That’s just nuts, especially when their accomplishments don’t warrant the adulation, as is so often the case.
The pressure we put on these people – the pressure they surely put on themselves – is inhuman. It isn’t real. It’s psychopathic. In the long run, it’s bad for employees, investors, them and their families. And business is not a short-term proposition. At least it shouldn’t be.
After all, business is not like fashion. Leading a corporation is not about personal branding. It’s not about tweets and Ted talks. It’s about creating shareholder and customer value. That’s why these people make the big bucks.
When we hoist CEOs and business leaders up on pedestals, they ultimately come crashing back down to Earth. The smart ones eventually learn that being grounded on terra firma is the best place to be. As for their adoring fans, they really need to get a life.