Can Strong Brand Management Practices Hinder Career Opportunities?

A recent article in BusinessWeek (September 14, 2009) identified the organizations headhunters look to when trying to identify management talent. General Electric, IBM and Hewlett-Packard were cited as organizations that develop executives who thrive elsewhere, The Coca-Cola Company does not.

The reason given is that "the very attributes that make Coke a great company - an iconic brand and an unmatched global distribution system - also make it easy for young mangers to rise without having to develop the entrepreneurial skills necessary to compete in other areas."

What a fascinating contradiction. According to Interbrand, Coke is the #1 brand in the world. What makes a great brand? Interbrand suggests that a great brand contains a compelling idea, stays true to its core purpose and values, and is the central organizing principle that guides decision - making within the firm. While strong brands need to stay relevant, strong brands do not constantly change what they stand for. And those who manage the organization's brands need to ensure that the organization constantly delivers on its brand promise.

But here is another contradiction. In the same study, IBM was ranked the #2 brand in the world, General Electric #4 and Hewlett-Packard #11. What's the difference then between an executive from The Coca-Cola Company and one from these other three companies?

It seems that to excel in such an organization with strong brands means to develop a strong mental model as to what the organization and its brands stand for. Perhaps the difference then is that those working for organizations that face more rapid change due to, say, technological change, are more adept at changing the mental models they hold of the industry, the organization and its brands. This might then explain why some folk transition into new roles in new organizations better than others.

Jenny Darroch is on the faculty at the Drucker School of Management. She is an expert on marketing strategies that generate growth. See