Which hat does a CEO wear online?

According to the OSIRIS database there are about 46,000 listed companies in the world. This means that there are at least as many CEOs who must answer to shareholders. Frequently, CEOs do not have a very prominent presence on corporate websites. But isn’t there – especially in these uncertain times – a greater demand for visible and, particularly, for accessible CEOs? In this article, we will present four inspiring examples of visible CEOs.

The CEO as blogger

Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, is probably the most frequently cited example of a blogging CEO. He places approximately three articles per month on his weblog, ranging in content from profession-related to company-specific information. Indeed, his articles receive fanatic responses from the public at large. The only downside seems to be that Jonathan provides barely any follow-up to his audience’s responses. It would have given him the chance to claim the title of ‘CEO as discussion partner’.

Jonathan's Blog
Jonathan’s Blog

The CEO as online crisis manager

David Neeleman - CEO JetBlue Airways
David Neeleman – CEO JetBlue Airways

Every enterprise can unwittingly find itself in a crisis situation. At such moments, the CEO has to display strong leadership. David Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue, an American passenger airline, had to pull out all the stops when JetBlue got negative press for lengthy delays and cancelled flights. As a crisis manager, he used the internet in a highly imaginative way. Within no time, a personal letter by him was placed on the JetBlue website. His personal video message on YouTube, however, was especially unique in the world of CEOs. CEO Neeleman’s effective and personal handling of the situation elicited nothing but a positive response from customers and consumer organizations.

The CEO as host

Peter Bakker, CEO of TNT, is one of the better known CEOs in the Netherlands. He gained fame as an advocate of TNT’s sustainability initiatives and chairman of the eponymous Bakker commission. For a few months now, TNT has had a restyled group website and a new pay-off (‘sure we can’). Like a true host, CEO Bakker awaits his visitors on the homepage. By means of three videos, he introduces visitors to the new TNT, its strategy and climate projects. Visitors receive a warm welcome.

Peter Bakker, CEO of TNT
Peter Bakker, CEO of TNT

The CEO as distinguished company

IBM - CEO biographies
IBM – CEO biographies

Companies that have been around for a while most likely have had more CEOs than the present one. IBM is one such company. A detailed profile of the current CEO, Samuel J. Palmisano, is available on IBM’s website. He has a file containing presentations, and visitors can send him a personal e-mail. It’s considerably more extensive than the average CEO profile on corporate websites. IBM also provides a historical summary of all the CEOs since Thomas J. Watson in 1956. To top it off, there’s an overview of all Nobel Prize winners who worked or still work at IBM.

Perhaps the most famous CEO right now is the CEO of Apple Inc. Steve Jobs is Apple and Apple is Steve Jobs. His legendary presentations, however, are either difficult or impossible to find on the Apple website. It wouldn’t have surprised me if there had been a section with Steve Jobs’ presentations on the product or press pages of the Apple website. As such, he has missed the opportunity of claiming the title of ‘CEO as online PR man’.

Which other hats fit the CEO?

We often hear that not every CEO wants to be in the spotlight. Granted. The examples above, however, illustrate that there is ample opportunity for the online positioning of CEOs as vital and visible leaders. In other words, not just as impregnable and inaccessible fortresses. Which other virtual hats fit CEOs? The CEO as salesman, recruiter, inspirer…?

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