When the rules no longer apply

I was talking with Michael Goodman, Ph.D., who runs the Corporate Communications Institute at Fairleigh Dickinson University, when the conversation turned to leaders in the PR industry. With a few notable exceptions, we agreed that most are incredibly gracious, laidback and relatively ego free.

Gene Colter, who joined our firm after 16 years with The Wall Street Journal, said much the same thing about CEOs in general. Most ‘powerful’ individuals are very engaging, down-to-earth, warm and honest, says Colter.

But, then there are those who seem to think the rules of business and social propriety simply don’t apply to them: Barry Bonds, Donald Trump, NFL/NBA players and your average rapper comes to mind.

So, too, does, Steve Jobs. Why else would he deliberately take on Cisco with his new iPhone? As was773ls_1   the case when he originally named his company and knowingly ‘took on’ the Beatles from a legal standpoint, Jobs knew Cisco had a product by the very same name. So, what goes through the mind of an uber-successful, uber-rich executive, sports star or entertainer when confronted by the rules of society and propriety? Did Jobs simply not care about the obvious lawsuit he’d trigger with his product naming? Did he think the negative publicity would build additional buzz? Or, did he see himself as simply being above the rules that govern mere mortals?

I see this sort of hubris at a much lower scale in everyday business, especially in terms of client-agency relationships. Ted "Ludicris" Birkhahn told me about one "mega client" who, upon being informed the agency would be closed on MLK, Jr., Day responded by saying, "Oh, no you’re not." And a group of us just met with a "powerful" new business prospect who ignored us for the first 20 minutes as she sent and received Blackberry messages.

Boorish behavior reflects poorly on the individual and the institution. I can’t speak for others, but I wouldn’t want to work for, or with, someone who thinks he’s too high and mighty to play by the rules. As Ed Moed likes to say, "Life is too short."

Thanks to Gene Colter and Deb Brown for their insights.

4 thoughts on “When the rules no longer apply

  1. Hey Steve, you are absolutely correct, Steve Jobs is one the biggest narcissistic megalomaniacs on the planet. Personal arrogance aside and in support of your Customer Service / Arrow post, in part, I believe Apple is sitting on ticking market loss bomb.
    I recently had the misfortune to have yet another iPod die, this one a 60G Video, about six months old. Apple tech support and later a visit to an Apple Genius (there’s an oxymoron) both failed to even acknowledge the iPod was not working. In fact holding the iPod in his hand the Apple Genius insisted it was working properly. Later I was saved by a Geek Squad member at my local Best Buy, where I bought the thing. The problem was diagnosed and fixed.
    My point for Apple is this, if they plan to expand their market beyond the traditional Apple cult, and make no mistake it is a cult, they as a company will need to shed their superior snobbish attitude to the majority of computing platforms not Mac and certainly they must do a better job of supporting the platform on which the majority of their products (iPods) run upon. Also Apple does not support the software for the iPod at all.
    Of course the second reason to doubt all things Apple, is their seeming determination to repeat the same mistakes over and over. As Apple continues to build proprietary products and refuses to open up the technology in a world increasingly going “Open” they will once again eventually be marginalized and occupy that market position of “great product, but doesn’t work with any of my other stuff.”

  2. hey steve,
    great post.
    it seems jobs knows something we didnt, hearing reports that cisco didnt re-up the trademark, we’ll see.
    to your point about clients – had a recent situation myself with our largest client that acts like a dictatorship rather than a partnership. who was very upset that we brought our entire agency to las vegas for 2 days (180 people) for a rally-fest. 2 days! And demanded that we work while we were there. these are the same people that refuse to give us timely feedback, treat us courteously and allow us to be successful.
    things that make you go hmmmmm.

  3. True, but regardless of Job’s arrogance and Apple’s lawsuit, the iPhone (even if it’s renamed iMobile, iTalk, etc) will keep Apple on top for a long time. They’ve reinvented the mobile category by developing what looks to be an unbelievable product. Sure, to a certain extent consumers care about the reputations of the companies they do business with, but ultimately a killer product is a killer product. Counterculture-types can bitch about “iPodization” all they want, but the fact is, it’s the best player (by far) on the market. And it’s easy to see why the iPhone is going to be the hottest product of 2007 – and likely the decade.
    Did you hear what Cisco wants out of the lawsuit? It’s not about money for them. They want to find a way for their iPhone to integrate with Apple’s iPhone. Pathetic.

  4. great post and i totally agree. i was sitting in a meeting this with a partner of mine and the ceo of a company we were looking to work with, when my partner asked what this CEO did before he took this gig 3 years ago. he told us that he was the former ceo of a major public company (he obviously told us the name- didn’t say a major..”) and we were truly surprised that this average guy, wearing jeans and having a normal conversation use to hold such a post.