Do Brands Die With Their Leaders?

Do Brands Die When Their Icon Does?

This week the fashion world lost an amazing artist L'Wren Scott. I have to admit, I took this news personally and I felt pain for her. Why? Well for starters, she was the partner of my future second husband Mick Jagger. She was as tall as I want to be and seemed to be living a life of fashion, rock and roll and love. But loving Mick's moves was not all we shared. We have so much more in common. Her real name was Laura. Our initials are the same. We are the same age(if you Google it, they are wrong. We are 39). We both head companies doing what we love and we both have an incredible love for the art of fashion.

Pundits are speculating that her company was in trouble and that may have contributed to her alleged suicide. I cannot and will not speculate on that. But what I do wonder is; how does a brand go on when their figurehead WAS the brand?

WHAT ICEBERG?

When the RMS Titanic sank in 1912, it was a shock not just to the shipping industry, but to EVERY INDUSTRY IN THE WORLD. Why? Because an inordinate amount of the world’s CEOs, high-powered legal and business minds and their seconds-in-command were on that ship. Many of them died leaving their huge companies and stockholders in shock and in fear. John Jacob Astor IV (real estate) Benjamin Guggenheim (mining) and Isidor and Ida Straus (Macy’s) were just to name a few titans who perished.

 But we have examples from later in our history that are not as tragic but just as jarring. Ima a Boston girl, so Wang Laboratories, Levitz Furniture, Howard Johnsons and Gloria Stevens Figure Salons are brands I never thought would go out of business, but they did. They all succumbed to a loss of leadership either through death or a corporate takeover. Remind me to tell you later about bumping into a Levitz descendant during a romantic dinner on my honeymoon. Honey, it will make you bust a gut!

HOW TO RIGHT YOUR SHIP

There are success stories when an iconic brand owner unexpectedly dies. Donatella Versace stumbled and fell before she found her footing after landing the company following her brother’s tragic murder. The house of Alexander McQueen kept strong and designed on after his death and landed the plum job of designing the future Queen of England’s wedding dress. Apple is doing well and so is one of my favorite brands, The Walt Disney Company but not without a horrible few decades with Roy Disney floundering at the helm and the threat of bankruptcy.

LIZARDS, SNAKES AND LIONS, OH MY!

I have worked for many companies. I have owned my own businesses. I put in 150% when I worked for other companies. When I work for myself I don’t even think there is a percentage in math that exists to calculate my tenacity. Why? Because I am deeply and soul-baringly invested. I have so much passion, I wake up at night and scribble ideas that I had in a dream. I am strategic and focused. I only work on what makes me happy AND makes me money.

When I think of my business and my money, sometimes the line from the movie "Wall Street" comes to mind. "Greed is good" said the slippery Gordon Gekko. C'mon Ollie Stone. Really? you didn’t think we would figure out the main character was a jerk, without naming him something obvious? Oh. And while I'm at it, "Slytherin" and "Gryffindor" JK? Sigh. . .

But think about it. The reality is that only the Baby Boomers had the "American dream," where you could work one place your whole life and retire with a gold watch.

THE AMERICAN DREAM ON CRACK

I'm sure there was a time when some companies did care about their people. But the Boomers found out the hard way in the 1980s, that companies see them as property. To be acquired, used and put into the Goodwill box when they were done with them.

The younger folk today are under no such illusions. They saw what their parents went through and use employers just like employers use them. I don't think Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Yers are slackers. I know. I know. We all have stories of working with seemingly, entitled young coworkers, who are sloppy, lazy, and put in just enough to get by, if that. 

Honestly, I think they are the realists. But that makes me very sad. They are the result of all the Gordon Gekkos of the world. To me, that is the American dream on crack. Greed is not good. It wasn’t good when Mr. Potter tried to sabotage good ole’ George Bailey and his debt-free Building & Loan (“It’s a Wonderful Life”) and it ain’t good now. Greed is what turns a thriving company into carrion for buzzards once its leader dies and Wall Street has her way.

Invested. Passion. Soul. Strategic. Focused.

Those are words I used above to TRY to explain my drive, but even they aren't enough. Let me just say this straight with no chaser. As a leader, if you aren't exhibiting, nurturing and leaving a clear plan for your employees or staff and NONE of those words are in your vocabulary, yo' team and yo' company is a hot mess.

At SMPR, we talk a lot about "compassionate commerce." It's probably not a real thing. I just needed a tagline to explain to current and future clients that we care about them, their customers and their product. Truthfully if we don't really care, I won't take on the business. And you don't want us to. 

HOW CAN LEADERS AVOID A HOT MESS?

Because if you hire a person, company or team, you want them to burn the candle at both ends, stay up all night working out solutions for you and have them worry about your bottom line even when they don’t have to. Goodyear, honey chiles’, I think y’alls have some good tires, but unless you come out with a line of pink, low profile, all-weather treads with animal print trimming, I'm thinking we ain’t a love match. But if you do create such a beast, SMPR will promote the *#!•?! out of that motha.

Will L'Wren Scott's company die along with her because she alone had all of the investment, passion, soul, focus and strategies? 

SOME SWEET, SPICY, SPECIAL SAUCE. . .

Successful posthumous leaders are those who daily leave that “special sauce” –– that glow. She or he leaves a vision of where the company is headed and a clearly lighted path for their corporate boards and their employees.

DON’T BE HENRY THE EIGHTH!

Does your brand or company communicate your special sauce not just to the customer, but to your management and frontline staff? If not, just like a Greek tragedy, that's your fatal flaw. Cause' customers and employees feel it IN THEIR BONES when a company has that special "ummmff." That special sauce that says, we have a vision and we are dependable no matter what. LL Bean, Toms and Google come to mind. And when customers feel that ummmff, they will stick with you through the good times and the bad.

BE MUFASA

So don’t be a straight line in the circle of life. Give, lead, nurture and be passionate everyday. Do that and you will most likely see the benefits long before people start needing to write your epitaph.

And speaking of epitaphs, if you love my nutty, bizarre, but fun way of sharing my business acumen, be a doll and share it with someone you want to have success;) Yup. Pink, cute buttons right down there for ya’.