CEO reputation as a key factor in corporate success and stakeholder perception: Elon Musk and Tesla case study

  • 5 Apr 2024
  • 3 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Brian Otieno

Companies worldwide revere their reputation. From a marketing perspective, the effective management of reputation opens up a business entity to prospects of unparalleled success, and on the flip side, a bad reputation could lead to diminished profit bases. Over time, the business world has come to appreciate that the figure of a Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director, or Director General looms large in corporate reputation management.

A CEO, or in whatever title an entity assigns to such a position, has evolved beyond traditional leadership responsibilities to encompass being the face and voice of the organisation. It’s no longer sufficient for a CEO to merely lead; they must also embody the personality, conduct, and public image of the company. This is crucial because the CEO’s actions and public persona can significantly influence brand awareness, consideration, and preference. This, ideally, has a huge impact on stakeholder perceptions. Investors, consumers, and employees alike will undoubtedly scrutinise the profile of a CEO before engaging with an entity, whether for its services or products.

Recently, Reuters reported that investors are shying away from investing in Tesla shares, largely due to the enigmatic nature of its CEO, Elon Musk. His volatile profile has drawn both admiration and criticism in equal measure. The impact this has had on Tesla cannot be wished away, as it has resulted in questions being raised about Tesla’s reputation and, consequently, its stakeholders’ perceptions.

The role of CEOs has greatly morphed, and they are no longer deemed solely as managers and directors of traffic. CEOs are now strategic mouthpieces who can shape narratives around their companies. How a CEO behaves, the statements they make public and their general personal brand could either tarnish or bolster the reputational standing of their companies.

The appreciation that today’s world is increasingly interconnected and information moves rapidly exemplifies why a CEO has a critical role in corporate reputation management. Every CEO action is now under increased scrutiny and will be picked up in both mainstream and digital media streams, making perceptions at the behest of rapid change.

Innovation and breaking barriers tell the tale of how Elon Musk has risen to be a leading figure in the global economic sphere. Similarly, his controversial character has not gone unnoticed. He has led from the front through visionary pursuits for e-mobility ventures and space exploration, making him a modern-day trailblazer to his almost cult-like followers. On the flip side, his unconventional behaviour, and divisive and erratic outbursts, have prodded both criticism and scepticism from his opponents.

Through his X (formerly Twitter) handle, Musk has depicted his volatile character, picking up his followers for exchanges, making bold decisions about his companies, and sharing perhaps divisive opinions on issues of concern. This direct communication approach has endeared him to some quarters but has also prompted concern, not only related to him but also to Tesla.

The link between Musk’s conduct and Tesla’s reputational standing is undeniable. He is accredited for his visionary leadership, which propelled the company as a leader in e-mobility. Investors and consumers who bought into his idea of innovation and commitment to sustainability have positioned Tesla as a leader in the transition to clean energy.

Contrastingly, the controversies surrounding him have also cast a shadow over Tesla’s reputation. His infamous post on securing funds resulted in spikes in Tesla’s stock prices and, subsequently, an investigation by the SEC regulator. His incessant spats with regulators, journalists, and critics highlight the implications and risks of his behaviour on Tesla.

In conclusion, Elon Musk’s profile as the CEO of Tesla serves as a compelling case study on the importance of CEO reputation in corporate reputation management. The complex interplay between reputation management and CEO profile is a key priority for companies. Companies therefore need to carefully consider the reputational implications of their CEO’s actions and personalities. Ultimately, the success of a company depends not only on its products and services but also on the character and conduct of its leadership.