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Winning the reputation game: Lessons from Jay-Z and Reid Hoffman

Some people argue that, in today’s world, a good reputation is more valuable than money. If that’s the case, what can people do to make their reputation stronger? 

This is the fundamental question that Rupert Younger explores in The Reputation Game: The Art of Changing How People See You. In the book, Younger, who co-founded global consulting firm Finsbury and serves as director of the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation, uses a variety of case studies to explore the rules and winning strategies for managing your reputation. 

Acknowledging that it’s impossible to completely control how others view you, Younger and his co-author David Waller say that you can learn from those who famously won – or lost – the reputation game. Here, we review highlights from their interviews with two reputational leaders: hip-hop legend Jay-Z and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. 

Jay-Z: Take your good reputation and ‘port’ it across industries

Profile: As one of the most recognisable artists and entrepreneurs in the world, Jay-Z has a reputation that precedes him wherever he goes. The winner of 22 Grammy Awards, Jay-Z has built an empire that stretches beyond performing music – encompassing Roc-A-Fella Records (now part of Universal Music), Roc Nation artist management, Rocawear clothing, Tidal music streaming platform and 40/40 Club sports bars. He is estimated to be worth US $1 billion.  

Strategy: Jay-Z used his reputation to both create opportunities that didn’t exist and parlay his work from one industry into another. Early in his career, when Jay-Z could not get a record deal, he co-created Roc-A-Fella Records with two friends. They sold records out of their car and gave them to record stores on consignment. His initiative eventually helped him negotiate a 50:50 deal with Def Jam Recordings. He also launched the 40/40 Club when he could not find places he and his friends wanted to hang out. Rocawear was his solution when they could not afford or fit into high fashion lines that did not necessarily want to be associated with hip hop. 

Jay-Z album launch

Takeaway: Jay-Z’s success story points to two key elements of a strong reputation: capability and character. To move between the music industry, retail space, and sports bars, Jay-Z had to prove that he had the professional capability and personal character to succeed as an entrepreneur in each of these fields. He accomplished this by spotting and fulfilling unmet customer needs; paying attention to emerging trends; and building his network with people from diverse industries. 

Person googling on their laptop

Reid Hoffman: Think about how you can ‘be found’ online

Profile: Reid Hoffman is the co-founder of PayPal and LinkedIn, as well as an early Facebook investor. Following the 2016 sale of LinkedIn to Microsoft, the Oxford University alumnus’ estimated worth was around $3.7 billion. 

Strategy: While building up his own reputation as one of the savviest entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in the world, Hoffman has built a platform – LinkedIn – that has effectively enabled people to shape their professional reputation online. However, he also designed LinkedIn to ‘calibrate’ reputations by integrating an endorsement system. That is, as a person adds more connections to their profile, the more accurate their profile becomes, since embellishing or lying on a profile could invite challenges from connections.  

Takeaway: Building your reputation is no longer just about presenting your ‘shiniest suit’, as Hoffman describes it. You also need to proactively and intelligently shape your online presence – through platforms such as LinkedIn – to make yourself easier to ‘be found’ in the digital world. The reason: Hoffman is currently working on a new product that will enable companies to use algorithms to design profiles for their ideal job candidates and then search for people that specifically match those profiles. When that time comes, Younger says, ‘What’s online will become you – whether it is you or not.’