Why Must Mark and Musk Be So Macho?

Haven’t they heard about the ‘Tale of Two Brothers’? asks Suveen Sinha.

Zuckerberg — or Zuck, as he is known to nearly everyone of his acquaintance — is pale and of medium build, with short, curly brown hair and blue eyes.

He’s only around five feet eight, but he seems taller, because he stands with his chest out and his back straight, as if held up by a string.

This is how The New Yorker, the mothership of long-form writing, described the head of Meta, formerly Facebook, in a 2010 profile. Jose Antonio Vargas, who wrote that profile, should see his subject now.

Mr Zuckerberg looks shredded. Still five feet eight, but that chest is bulked up and sandwiched between ripped abs and broad shoulders.

The back is held straight up not by a string, but by a recently earned blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

We do not know if this is in preparation for Mr Zuckerberg’s impending cage fight with Elon Musk, the boss at Tesla, Twitter, and SpaceX, who does not appear to have posted any shirtless photos. But he is not taking things lying down.

Georges St-Pierre, Canadian wrestler and UFC fighter, tweeted on July 3 about his ‘Great training session with 3 men that I really admire’ — the third was Mr Musk, looking a little rounded around the midriff, unless it is very ill-fitting T. But the session must have been serious business.

UFC, or the Ultimate Fighting Championship, is the platform likely to host the showdown between the two tech billionaires. Their cage match is not guaranteed, but The New York Times reported

Mr Musk, Mr Zuckerberg, and their advisors were inching towards physical combat.

How did we get here?

On June 21, Mr Musk on Twitter appeared to challenge Mr Zuckerberg to a cage fight, though he ended the tweet with ‘lol’.

Things soon took a serious turn. According to the NYT, a day after Mr Musk’s challenge, Dana White, UFC’s president, received a text from Mr Zuckerberg asking if Mr Musk was serious. Mr White called Mr Musk, who confirmed that he was willing.

This was followed by Mr Zuckerberg posting a screenshot of Mr Musk’s tweet challenge on Instagram, a Meta platform, and saying: ‘Send Me Location’.

But how did we really get here?

Let’s talk about looks

In January 2014, two economists at the University of Wisconsin in the United States released a research paper titled Beauty is Wealth: CEO Appearance and Shareholder Value, in which they rated the attractiveness of 677 CEOs.

The paper said shareholders perceived more attractive CEOs to be more valuable.

There has been other research saying good looks make CEOs appear more competent and enable them to extract better deals.

Indeed, several people believe that looks matter, in business as much as in life.

Not just in the way we are born, but also the way we groom ourselves, dress, and present ourselves through speech and manners.

You will be hard-pressed to find a multinational CEO without a formal jacket and tie.

Some Indian CEOs might take a few liberties with the dress code, but they would pay meticulous attention to how much liberty they were taking.

The ladies would do their own versions of the stiffly-formal and the less-so.

Some take pride in the company uniform, most notably the honchos at Maruti Suzuki, who would proudly don their half-sleeve company shirts in summer and a thick, none-too-fancy jacket in winter.

Some CEOs like to flaunt their fitness by talking about, say, their marathon running or cycling abilities.

Most start-up founders, on the other hand, won’t be caught dead in a formal jacket and tie.

For them, it is usually variations of Steve Jobs’ jeans and T-shirt routine.

I know one who wears jeans and T-shirts even in Gurugram winter, and pokes fun at my far-less-adventurous and far-more-warm clothing.

Even the staid world of monetary policy found itself aflutter when Raghuram Rajan took charge as the Reserve Bank of India governor.

Many thought he was the right man for the job because he looked ‘sexy’ and was a sharp dresser.

Looks and clothes won’t cut it now

Much water has flown under the bridge since those innocent days of looks, smiles, age, gender, confidence, glasses, jackets, jeans, and T-shirts.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got away by merely carping at each other. The stakes are higher now.

The personal wealth of Mr Musk and Mr Zuckerberg would outstrip the wealth of yesteryear CEOs by a few bank accounts. But it is more than a matter of billions.

This is the era when battles are fought in the mind and in perception.

The latest front has opened with Mr Zuckerberg launching Threads as a rival to Twitter.

Mr Musk fears this has the potential to put the Earth under ‘Zuck’s thumb’.

He has also disparaged WhatsApp as ‘cannot be trusted’ and once asked people to delete Facebook — both are Mr Zuckerberg’s properties.

Mr Zuckerberg is far more guarded, and once praised Mr Musk for making Twitter leaner. But he is not backing down from the cage fight challenge.

Is it really worth it?

‘A Tale of Two Brothers’ should be a cautionary tale.

Both had their grooming in business under their father.

Both, at one point, owned almost equal business empires.

One was fit, flamboyant, and debonair. The other was studied, understated, and focused on executing large projects.

You know how this story ends, right?

Disclaimer: These are Suveen Sinha’s personal views.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

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