When I started working in the mid-1980s, I never thought about personal brand. Personal branding was not a thing. Today, it is what most people seem to be doing. Type in “personal branding” and over 28 million Google results appear. In 1997, Tom Peters started it all with an article in Fast Company entitled “The Brand Called You.” Social media was not in full force, but a business mindset shift was well underway. Business leaders used “maximizing shareholder value” as the way to manage and lead operations.

Maximizing shareholder value meets personal branding.

In Robert Reich’s thoughtful book, The Common Good, he outlines how the business mindset moved from “balanced interests” to “shareholder value.” Business leaders shifted from being stewards to being driven, almost by fear, to increase stock prices. Even though thoughtful leaders, like Peter Drucker, argued that the “purpose of business is to create and keep a customer,” too many business leaders have aligned shareholder value to short-term stock prices. What gets lost in the mix is the concept of “balanced interests.”

We have a shareholder-driven business mindset combined with a personal-driven brand. If companies are going to layoff thousands of individuals and widen the gap between CEO pay and worker salaries, then the individual must do something to enhance their personal value and marketability.

What we get in the middle is a lot of self-interest.

What Tom Peters said in the 1997 article drives the selfishness point home. He said, “I know this may sound like selfishness. But being CEO of Me Inc. requires you to act selfishly – to grow yourself, to promote yourself, to get the market to reward yourself. Of course, the other side of the selfish coin is that any company you work for ought to applaud every single one of the efforts you make to develop yourself.”

When you read the 1997 article, you get a sense that an individual must continue to learn, change, and improve themselves. Each element is important and vital to stay relevant in our global world. What we experience now is extreme positioning and an overflow of content in which everyone drowns in irrelevancy, losing our sense of what is right and, oddly enough, who we really are.

For CEOs, pay structures changed to align with shareholder value. This shift “helped spawn the rise of executive pay tied to share prices – and thus the huge rise in stock-option pay. As a result, average annual executive pay has quadrupled since the early 1970s.” No wonder the focus is on personal wealth and short-term actions.

The result through the 1980s to today is a lot of self-centeredness by CEOs and individuals. You can call it shareholder value or personal brand, but the reality is selfishness.

What will return business and society to a balanced interests way of thinking and acting again?

The answer to the above question seems to be problematic right now. What our current politics show is the culmination of self-interest over all else. We have individuals around the president stating that he could pardon himself or even shoot an FBI director and not indicted. The White House refuses to respond to the General Accounting Office’s request for information. Although other examples exist, Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, serves as the bad example of serving himself rather than the United States. All this shows is how self-interested our leaders have become.

Our business and society are at a tipping point free-fall into chaotic self-centeredness. We need to change our direction now.


Today, the big gap widens on accountability. Both political parties seem absent. Some citizens seem to latch more on self-absorbed, negative chants than a conversation of the greater good. Self-interest grows in a non-accountability world.

The result of our personal brand and shareholder value focus is self-centeredness, accountability absence, and purpose vacated.

All hope is lost in the pursuit of personal brand and shareholder value. It is time to re-center on moral courage, greater good, and investments for a better future.

Where Does Hope Take Hold?

Moves toward social enterprises and corporate social responsibility are encouraging. The rise of B Corporations and Conscious Capitalism offer a back-to-the-future move to “balanced interests.” For me, the concept and examples of business leader activism offer the greatest hope for positive change, but we have a long way to go.

In businesses, we need a shift from shareholder value to collaborative value.

With individuals, we need a shift from personal brand to societal brand.

Collaborative value focuses on innovation by working with all stakeholders within a corporate community. Societal brand focuses on how individuals can come together to achieve more, for more people, more of the time.

Four essential questions to consider:

  • How can a company create greater future value together than separately?
  • What investments can a company make for collaborative value?
  • How can an individual raise their value by bringing others together for the greater good?
  • What investments can an individual make in society – business and community – to become better citizens while encouraging others to do the same?

Rather than self-centered objectives to create short-term value, we need to shift to how we can create long-term value and be greater-good centered. Our business and society are at a tipping point free-fall into chaotic self-centeredness. We need to change our direction now.



Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash


The pursuit of personal brand and shareholder value have created a business world and society soaked in selfishness. Without accountability and a business and individual mindset shift, we will sink to greater chaos.