When Brand Doesn't Matter

When Brand Doesn't Matter

On Friday we saw the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, arguably the most storied brand and institution in Silicon Valley, banking some of the most prominent venture firms and start-ups in tech.

There are several articles and experts that are pointing to what went wrong and why, and I am not credentialed enough to add commentary on those two points, but the event does leave me thinking about leadership and brand and how brand can mask reality.  In my recruiting work at Shine Talent, I see this both with corporate brands and personal brands, sometimes surprised at how unstable a well-known company is when I peek under the hood or how ill-equipped an executive is for a position, even when they carry a hefty title and are revered in certain circles.  Brand can cover up a lot but eventually, if the brand doesn't deliver on the corporate or personal promise, the reality surfaces, and either the company or the person will fail.  So, what does this mean for hiring executive leaders and candidates?

From a hiring perspective, look beyond the glowing articles or the large social following of a candidate.  Deeply consider your business and what is needed for the next three years.  Understand that when you are hiring an executive that has a large following, they typically enjoy being in the spotlight and there is a potential risk that their personal brand and message may overpower the company brand.  Through the interview process, you need to question if the work required for your business can be achieved by this person.  Are they too focused on building their own brand?  Do they have what it takes to be heads down and operational?  Can they really develop the strategy that will propel your business forward and do they know how to hire?  A high-profile executive is an exciting hire but not always the right hire for a company.

From a candidate perspective, go deep to understand the company health, business, and culture that you will be entering.  Don’t be wooed by the big-name brand vs. examining how effective you can be within the organization.  Take the time to consider who you are as an executive leader and what type of environment you best operate in and if the company and CEO can provide that for you.  If you love the start-up world but are concerned about the economy, don’t shy away.  Instead, do your homework and ask smart questions related to funding, cash burn, product-market fit, leadership, and more.  If it is a Fortune 500 company or large-scale brand, ask how decisions get made, how new product ideas get green-lit, and how technology and headcount investments are assessed.

In the end, brand matters, but it will only take a company or a person so far.  Some of the most interesting and profitable businesses in the world are not well-known brands and some of the most extraordinary executive leaders are often the least public.  If there is a lesson in recruiting that the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank can teach us, it is to do the work to understand what is behind the brand.