Companies with Personality

As a computer science major, I have a tendency to force problems into algorithms, usually to a fault. While taking part in an International Business Semester at Copenhagen University last semester, I focused my algorithm goggles: what makes a company successful? One similarity that really struck me was personality. More specifically, the personality of the person in charge with respect to the projected image of the company.

Take Apple, for example. They’re well known for their beautiful design and attention to detail. It’s the Apple that Steve Jobs grew. And if you’re one of the millions of people who read his biography, you’ll know that he, too, was driven by beautiful design and a painstaking, detailed-oriented obsession with computing devices. His personality was embodied by his company.

Let’s look at one of Apple’s biggest competitors: Microsoft and its founder Bill Gates. Bill grew up in an upper-middle class family in Washington, an average man with an unassuming demeanor and an affinity for writing functioning code. Likewise, the software produced by Microsoft during Gates’ years as CEO was primarily directed at improving the lives of average people across the world with little emphasis on elegant user interfaces. Like the founder, the products of Microsoft weren’t particularly ostentatious or eye-catching.

There are more examples: Sergey Brin (Google) with his technical background and austere, speedy web applications; Richard Branson (Virgin Group) with his daring, adventurous spirit and competitive, innovative, and usually risky companies. All of these companies have the personality of their founders woven into the fabric of their identities. But is this personality helpful for business?

In an industry with dozens of competitors producing essentially the same product, creating an emotional tie with potential customers makes a company more memorable and increases the likelihood of loyalty. What better way to create a company with a rich, genuine image than by basing it off of a real person? Months of marketing design is no match for years of experience molding a personality.

Furthermore, the personality doesn’t matter. Take RyanAir, a highly successful, no-frills, airline. Their CEO, Michael O’ Leary, is known to be blunt and unfriendly and, as anyone who’s flown RyanAir knows, they run a tight, minimum-customer service flight. What you see is what you get. But the “compassionless jerk” is a unique personality in business. It’s something you remember and know how to deal with.

So when starting a company, go ahead and inject your DNA into it. Let your company be somebody. Let it be you.