Jordan Greenaway, founder of Transmission Private, wonders if time can heal reputations that have fallen off a cliff as much as Ye’s. After all, it worked for Bill Gates
It’s 8 June, 2000. Bill Gates is on the cover of most newspapers. He has, perhaps, one of the worst reputations in business. After a bitter two-year court battle, the US courts have ordered that Microsoft be broken up (the decision was later overturned). Coined as a monopolistic ‘dweeb Darth Vader’ by Time Magazine, he took a cream pie to the face in Brussels and made an unflattering appearance in The Simpsons.
Fast forward two decades and things look different: Bill Gates is a loveable, jumper-wearing, philanthropic geek. The case of Gates should give all high-profile people, Kanye West included, comfort that there is a way back for those whose reputations have taken a dive.
But first, a disclaimer: Ye’s reputation has taken a dive for different, and darker, reasons. He has made disgraceful antisemitic comments, and I don’t want to make a false equivalence between him and Gates. But, there is still a lot of advice that can be gained from studying Gates’ example.
How Bill Gates turned it around
Firstly, time is the ultimate salve for reputation. So, Ye, the first thing you should do is just stop. Stop everything. Down tools, and lead a quiet life for an extended period, perhaps a year or two or three. Release a sincere statement of apology, and say you are stepping back from public life.
People wrongly believe that PR is a dark art, and that it’s always possible to find a quick fix: if only you could find just the right words for a gracious apology, everything will be fixed. Don’t try it. At the moment, everything will be read through the lens of the current crisis.
Secondly, after sufficient time has passed, start rebuilding your reputation in a new domain: find a niche topic that you feel passionate about, but you haven’t discussed publicly before. It could be something as idiosyncratic as desertification, biodiversity, or city planning. A fresh topic will help draw a clear line between the past and future.
Once you’ve nailed that topic, make a bold, surprising, and well-resourced intervention into this space. The goal is to build up respectability through action. And this will take time.
Bill Gates executed this very successfully. It has been 20 years in the making. But, perhaps, the biggest lesson to learn from him is that you need to want to recover your reputation. Gates recognised the depth of the problems he faced, admitted his mistakes, and devoted himself sincerely (and financially) to showing that things have changed.
So, Ye, are you ready for this same process? Are we on the same page? Do you recognise and deeply understand the mistakes you have made? Before we start work, I need to hear a ‘yes’.
Order your copy of The Spear’s 500 2023 here.