AKINYEMI: Can your personal brand survive after you get fired?

Monday December 16 2019

Timeless brands like the late Steve Jobs do not need the corporate tag to shine. PHOTO | AFP


Lucy (not real name) was a senior executive in a Lagos firm and because of her position, her phone was always ringing. When she called, people were quick to pick the phone. People would ask for selfies whenever she was out at some public function — especially functions that were sponsored by her company. People adored her because with a single word from her mouth, millions of naira would be poured into events in the name of sponsorship. Lucy was by all standards a celebrity.

Then the unthinkable happened. The company was downsizing and she had to be let off and like many others before her and after her, the phone went silent.

Lucy went from someone who had to juggle between multiple phones ringing all the time and having assistants help her with managing her phone calls to a person who would check the phone regularly to see if it was still working. There was nothing wrong with the phone. She had lost the appeal that drew people to her. It was a sad realisation that she found hard to accept. She went into a depression.

Can your brand survive after you are fired?

This is not a story unique to Lucy in Lagos. We all know of people who as employees of certain organisations appear to be celebrities. People want to take selfies with them and when they call, people pick up their phone. Then when they are no longer in that office they are confronted with the sad truth that their corporate brand had swallowed up any semblance of a personal brand. In essence, when placed alongside their corporate brand, their personal brand did not exist.

Yet on the other hand we have what I call timeless brands. It does not matter where they are, they rise and shine. In fact, companies make a lot of noise about the fact that such people are joining the team. Their brand has already attained a level where it commands attention and respect. They do not need the corporate brand to shine. They are already shining on their own.


Many years ago, Steve Jobs was fired from the company he started. They were convinced that they could do well without him. They realised when it was too late, that the growth and success of the company was not just because they had good products.

They had a celebrity leader who was able to make emotional connections with people. They had a strong personal brand that drove the performance of the corporate brand. With him gone, it was just a matter of time. When they called him back, the company once again bounced back.

Powerful brand

Now compare this with CNN. Their founder, Ted Turner also had to leave the company that he started. In this case, however, many people did not know that he had been fired. Life went on at CNN. If you compare the two organisations you will see a major difference in the fact that with Apple, Steve Jobs was the only super personal brand in the company. CNN however had so many people like Wolf Blitzer, Larry King, Christiane Amanpour and a host of others. These were the very faces of CNN and no one was more supreme than the other.

They were such powerful personal brands that they had what I call the power of endorsement. If anyone of them went to a small town station in a remote part of the world, that remote station will suddenly find a new level of visibility simply because of the endorsement received from the powerful personal brand.

A very good example is Oprah Winfrey. If one took time to count the number of authors, the number of products, the number of companies that became hugely successful because of the endorsement of Oprah they will run into thousands.

The Internet era and the power of social media has provided a platform for many powerful personal brands to emerge. I believe that the decade that we are about to enter will be the decade of the personal brand. Big brands have had their say but the loudest voices of the future will be the voices of personal brands endorsing big brands. This is why you cannot leave your brand to chance.

The messing up of reputation is one of the greatest threats to leaders today. Being proactive about managing your personal brand is no longer an option. It is the way to go. Kylie Jenner is paid over a million dollars for a single post on Instagram where she has 153 million followers. Think of it. That is a direct hit to a population greater than the population of most countries on the face of the earth. Welcome to the era of the personal brand.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks