No More Pedestals
Every company’s founder has a great idea. But their social influence should stop there.
About a week ago, a friend and I were talking about Tesla. We’re both fans of the car company, but inevitably Elon Musk got brought into the conversation. It seems like Elon’s presence is forever tied to whatever Tesla does. Yet there’s key differences between what Tesla the car company does and what Elon Musk does. In today’s supersaturated tech industry, CEOs have become new celebrities. Founders of your favorite brands and platforms are raised onto pedestals and are given an unprecedented power of influence. One bad day for a CEO means stocks can plummet, investors can back out, and companies can crumble. There was an argument during the 2008 economic crisis that corporations were people. That is only spurred on by CEOs that are ingrained into the businesses they run.
Like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg has become synonymous with Facebook. One simply cannot exist or be mentioned without the other. Zuckerberg’s complete control over the direction and decisions of Facebook means that the platform has no choice but to bend to the will of what Zuckerberg wants. As more and more advertisers pull away from Facebook over the platform’s inaction to address hate groups and misinformation, Mark took to boldly claiming they would inevitably come back. Even as employees start to become more vocal against Zuckerberg’s stance, Facebook continues to do much of the same.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk and Tesla share a similar relationship. Musk rules Tesla with an iron fist — putting a hand in everything the company does and making sure everything meets his ambitious goals before it becomes public. Yet his appearance as a megalomaniac is all too well-known on Twitter and to the public in general. He can tank his own stocks with a tweet and gain them all back with a second tweet. His brash and unforgiving nature clashes with the altruism that Tesla stands to achieve.
Though both of these founders operate in different ways, they share one inescapable trait: they are their companies. They prove that the line between an individual and a company is blurred.
But should that line be so blurry?
Quite frankly, we should seperate founders from their creations. Take them off the pedestals we put them on. Imagine a scenario where your Facebook timeline isn’t flooded with misinformation because Zuckerberg’s unilateral control over the platform is no longer unilateral. I don’t think there is a single person who — given the choice to destroy Facebook completely or work progressively to fix the platform — would choose the former over the later. People not only recognize when something isn’t working, but often choose to fix that broken thing so it does work. In order for that to happen, there needs to be a defining line between founder and company.
We must focus on the product more than the producer. While these founders start their businesses with nothing more than a really good idea, there needs to be a social barrier between the two and a bigger focus on the betterment of the business. There will always be people like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. There always have been people like them. But there’s a ton of good ideas that have suffered and failed or have been twisted because of their close tie to their founders and because of the pedestal of this “social power” we give to founders. Like the unions of the Industrial Age, there needs to be a reformed thinking of what the role of a founder should be in the public eye versus what it is for their business.
I’m not saying we should eat the rich, here. I’m not advocating anyone be removed from power or muzzled for their thoughts or actions. But I’m asking fellow consumers, investors, shareholders, and perhaps founders themselves to find the space between personal actions and actions on behalf of their companies and define a line to separate the halves. Perhaps by doing this, we can finally see some progress in companies and IPs that have been stagnated by their CEOs.
Joe Staples is a tech writer based in Brooklyn, NY. When he’s not chalk full of opinions on CEOs, he’s sitting directly in front of his AC in the humid Brooklyn heat. He publishes his articles weekly on Substack, along with news tidbits he finds throughout the week. He’s also usually found on Twitter, keeping tabs on what’s new in consumer tech, entertainment, and all things nerdy. Joe also started a weekly tech chat every Sunday on Space, a new chatroom app (you can DM him for deetz). And the best part: he’s for hire.
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