The chatter surrounding Facebook’s roadshow this week has reached a fever, er, pitch, right down to what CEO Mark Zuckerberg was wearing. Though he was absent on the second day of the company’s pitches to investors in advance of the company’s pending IPO, Zuckerberg was criticized on Tuesday for wearing a hoodie to meet with Wall Street bankers. “He’s actually showing investors he doesn’t care that much; he’s going to be him,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who issued the first “buy” rating on Facebook, told Bloomberg. “I think that’s a mark of immaturity.”
But what Pachter doesn’t seem to understand is that looking different from the bankers surrounding him is surely the point. While some may see the hoodie as a sign of adolescence, others see it as the badge of an entrepreneur who isn’t going to change his ways just because his company is going public and he’s about to make a bazillion dollars.
Imagine, for a moment, that Zuck had shown up in the ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel looking all grown up in a Zegna suit and oxfords. People might have thought he was nervous, or felt out of place, or, worst of all, was ready to bow to whatever Wall Street expected. Even President Obama only got a coat and tie from him — with jeans and sneakers.
The hoodie is to Zuckerberg what black turtlenecks and jeans were to Steve Jobs. Just like its close cousins the gray T shirt and the sneaker, the hoodie gives Zuckerberg a way to sartorially wink that he doesn’t like to answer to anybody and that he’s not losing his “hacker” street cred. Whether Tuesday’s decision was a conscious one or not — Zuckerberg is the very least aware of what his fashion choices say to others — the signature hoodie seems to have become part of the Zuckerberg “brand.” (Or, as some have put it, “cult.”)
And for those buying Facebook, that actually does matter. The thing about investing in Facebook is that shareholders will really be investing in Zuckerberg. The 27-year-old wunderkind will hold some 57 percent of voting power, many times more than your average CEO. As a result, he will be uniquely capable of influencing the company’s products, look, management and future, and will therefore be the subject of as much media obsession as Steve Jobs (or Kate Middleton, for that matter). Investors will notice if he gains weight, loses weight, stays in the bathroom too long or wears strange insignias inside the lining of his jacket.
What CEO, after all, has been named Time’s Person of the Year? And what corporate executive can say he has had an Academy Award-nominated movie made about him? Even if “The Social Network” did not paint the most likeable portrait of Zuckerberg, it did manage to make him even more of an alluring, enigmatic figure that adds to the company’s mystique. Zuckerberg is much more than the CEO of Facebook. He is his own cultural phenomenon.
Of course, what really matters isn’t what Zuckerberg wears. It’s how prepared he is to handle the pressures of running a public company. What he wears is unlikely to make any difference in the company’s results. But it could make a big difference in how people view how much he’s staying true to the company’s roots, and whether or not he’s changing his ways to suit anyone else.
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