Personal Branding of Top Managers

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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Personal branding has gained enormous momentum through the emergence of Web 2.0 and the subsequent explosion of social media, which has led to visibility, fame and attention becoming key currencies in the daily lives of an increasing number of people. As a result, the branding of people is no longer limited to movie stars, singers, entertainers or sports stars. Top managers as another category have significant impact on business and society and are now more than ever in focus of larger and diverse audiences. While top managers are becoming established as personal brands, the mechanisms for this are still quite unclear. This dissertation concentrates on opening the black box of a contemporary phenomenon that has innumerable applications in practice but still lacks a deeper understanding: How do top managers’ personal brands emerge and how do they work?
In order to answer these central research questions, the first study draws on a sample group of six top managers with different industry backgrounds and experiences, whose insights into the development of and the events around creating their own personal brand resulted in diverse individual narratives. This process research shows that personal branding is a distinct managerial tool for top managers, encompassing three key practices. Each key practice comprises a set of specific activities which are carried out by top managers in different ways over time, resulting in supportive or obstructive effects on personal brand development. A central theme of personal brand development in all phases of career development is managing dualities and overcoming the tensions inherent in these dualities.
The second study uses a between-subjects true-experimental design and further develops findings from the first study, namely that the top manager’s personal brand requires focused development and, that it does not work or have an impact in isolation. It engages with the connection between the top manager personal brand and the corporate brand. The results of the study demonstrate that when taking into account the celebritization of the CEO, meaning transfer effects exist at the brand attribute level both in the direction of celebrity-CEO-to-corporate-brand and in the direction of corporate-brand-to-celebrity-CEO. These meaning transfer effects confirm the applicability of the concept of brand endorsement to celebrity CEOs and the mutuality in co-branding models. In addition, the findings in this study reveal which exact brand attributes actually have an effect in each direction of the meaning transfer between the celebrity CEO brand and the corporate brand.
The third study continues the process approach of the first study by looking at the development of a personal brand over time through the lens of temporal work. Building on the sample group of the first empirical study, the results yield a model of temporal work on the personal branding of top managers with different mechanisms in terms of decisions and actions that are linked within a phase and between phases of the career. It shows that personal branding is not necessarily a conscious or predictable process. Because of that, it requires frequent reflections and interpretative links between the past, present and future in the different career phases, in order to successfully employ personal branding as a distinct managerial practice.
In summary, this dissertation advocates understanding personal branding as a distinct and interdisciplinary form of branding and not just as a simple variation thereof. In particular, the results of the three empirical studies underline the importance of the conscious application of key practices as well as analysis and reflection in the process of top managers’ personal branding. In the future, there are further aspects to be examined with regards to the personal branding of top managers, such as antecedents and imprinting factors for the individual personal brand, and their impact on the individual personal branding process.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Henseler, Jörg, Supervisor
  • Loohuis, Raymond, Co-Supervisor
Award date10 Dec 2021
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-5291-2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2021


  • Personal branding
  • Top manager
  • Process research


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