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Five US companies have surpassed a trillion dollars in market valuation. In the past few weeks, the chief executives of four of those companies have presented earnings to the world. Not a single one said anything memorable. 

That is not to say that the companies are not doing interesting things. There are plans for higher spending on generative artificial intelligence and the introduction of spatial computing. But the way in which the CEOs spoke was understated. All appear studiously uncontroversial. 

Consider this the case for the measured CEO. Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai is known for being good natured and polite, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella has been described as “low key” and Amazon’s Andy Jassy tends to lean on data when asked difficult questions. 

At Apple, Tim Cook has taken the company from a market cap of less than $350bn to the world’s first $3tn company. Yet when the company presented its first new hardware product in years, the widely anticipated Vision Pro virtual reality headset, he stepped back and handed the stage over to Alan Dye, VP of Human Interface Design. 

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang has a black leather jacket that garnered a fashion write up in the New York Times. But when speaking, he tends to be calm and considered. 

Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, whose companies take places six and seven in the US market cap ranking, produce plenty of headlines, including their recent social media back and forth about a potential cage match. 

The pair come at things rather differently. Zuckerberg has actively tried to cultivate a public persona with mixed results. Remember the muted reaction to his politician-like tour of the US in 2017? Or the awkward live video that showed his smiley avatar looking at the aftermath of a hurricane in Puerto Rico, after which he felt the need to add a comment explaining that his goal was to show how VR can create empathy. 

Musk has a drama queen’s instinct for attention — tweeting pictures of guns on his bedside table and making pronouncements about US politics. His social media presence seems to have encouraged similar behaviour from other leaders. Marc Andreessen, co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, tweets up a storm. He has also moved into the world of YouTubers, uploading a near two hour video with co-founder Ben Horowitz in which they discussed the film Oppenheimer among other things. 

All seem to think that it is important for the public to know their opinions about a lot more than just the companies they lead. By contrast, the CEOs of the five largest companies are rarely heard in public talking about anything else. Huang spoke to the Financial Times earlier this year about the dangers of an escalating battle over chips between the US and China, but this was in relation to his semiconductor business. When they use social media — Nadella has a Twitter account with 3mn followers — they tend to stick to talking about their companies. 

The benefits of restraint are clearest when accusations are coming thick and fast. Earlier this year, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress to defend the app’s links to China and the impact it was having on American teenagers. Over the course of more than five hours he answered questions politely and carefully. There were no meme-worthy moments as when Zuckerberg replied to a question five years ago about how Facebook made money with the snippy “Senator, we run ads”.

See also the way in which mild mannered Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has smoothed over the problems left by his predecessor Travis Kalanick. Khosrowshahi will probably not inspire a drama series, like Kalanick did. But under his reign Uber has reported profits. 

Flaunting idiosyncrasies and cavorting for an online audience drives attention. But for established companies, boring is better.



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