The Facebook initial public offering may still be over a week away, but already chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has been getting the company into trouble – not for a privacy scare, but for choosing to wear a hoodie and jeans instead of a suit during presentations to shareholders.
The young chief executive’s dress code has apparently frazzled some investors, according to Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who told Bloomberg the decision to show up casually dressed suggests he may not be up for the job.
“He’s actually showing investors he doesn’t care that much; he’s going to be him,” he said. “I think that’s a mark of immaturity.”
“I think that he has to realise he’s bringing investors in as a new constituency right now, and I think he’s got to show them the respect that they deserve because he’s asking them for their money.”
The criticism encapsulates some of the fears Wall Street veterans have of the 27-year-old chief executive, with questions being put to the company about whether he has the experience to lead a public business.
The controversy has even sparked some opportunistic marketing for a company developing a pin-striped hoodie, branded as the “bleeding edge of business casual”.
However, entrepreneurs and experts who defend Zuckerberg point to the success of the company, along with some of the chief executive’s counterparts – including Steve Jobs – who don’t bother dressing up for flashy events and presentations either. Some say because the company is so large, Zuckerberg has proven himself and should be able to do whatever he wants – others suggest he’s taking it too far.
We’ve interviewed two leading Australian entrepreneurs – Catch of the Day chief executive Gabby Leibovich and SmartCompany’s own Aunty B – to give their views on whether you should take the Zuckerberg approach.
Catch of the Day has become one of the company’s most successful online retailers, turning over $250 million a year and dominating the daily deals format. But Leibovich says despite the company’s rise to success, he doesn’t bother dressing up for anyone.
“The world is definitely changing, and in the past it’s been quite common to wear a suit to meetings. But we absolutely refuse that to such a point where, when we were hiring a chief financial officer, we joked that if anyone came in wearing a suit and tie they wouldn’t get the job.”
“That means the person is not going to fit within our culture, and culture is something that is very important to us. You’ll never see me with a suit or tie, usually. I wore a jacket last week and a friend asked if I had rented it.”
But what about presentations? While Leibovich says he can understand why some entrepreneurs would put on a show and dress up for investors, he prefers a more natural approach.
“I do present and do talks and those sorts of things, but I wear runners and jeans. Should I change the way I dress? If I wear anything different, I don’t feel like I’m the real Gabby.”
“I’m not ashamed of it. The business stands for what it stands for, and we’re not going to suddenly change ourselves.”
“These tech companies like Facebook and Apple are leading the world. I’m with Zuckerberg.”
SmartCompany’s own “business bitch” has always been opinionated, but when it comes to dress code it seems there’s no room for error – Zuckerberg’s sending the wrong message, she says.
“The problem with the hoodie is you are giving away vital information in a highly competitive bidding process. There he is in a pressure cooker environment, trying to raise money from people who want to give him the money – but for the biggest stake of the company they can get.”
“And he thinks that the hoodie signals a certain nonchalance, a relaxed-as-usual type of attitude. ‘You don’t intimidate me’, is the message he wants to convey.”
Aunty B says while that may be the intent, Zuckerberg is giving off an entirely different vibe.
“Here’s what the sharks see – an insecure boy. A guy that needs to try; a guy that has some agenda about his image; a guy that doesn’t know how to dress for the occasion because that’s all it is.”
“And the sharks know how to take advantage of that. So, Mark, if you are listening, smarten up. And Mark’s board? Teach him a thing or two about tactics, will you?”