Career Success Through an Authentic Personal Brand

The ability to create positive personal impact is an important key to your life and career success. If you want to create positive personal impact, you need to do three things: 1) Create and nurture your unique personal brand; 2) Dress for success; and 3) Know and follow the basic rules of etiquette.

Today I’d like to tell you the story of Peggy Williams, a woman with a very unique personal brand. Peggy retired after 10 years as President of Ithaca College. Ithaca is an elite liberal arts institution. Ithaca is expensive and hard to get into. You might expect that the Ithaca president would be conservative and a bit of a stuffed shirt.

Not Peggy. Here’s an excerpt from a story that appeared in the Ithaca Journal. It illustrates her brand.

“Ithaca College’s first female president was hiding in the lighting booth of Emerson Suites as a large male student aped around on stage making fun of her. The student wore a black, Peggy-esque wig and was imitating her penchant for yo-yoing in front of hundreds of students as the final act of a comedy show…Mustering her best presidential voice, she belted out into the microphone, “You’re not the real Peggy Williams. I’m Peggy Williams!” and then leapt on-stage and hurled a pie into the hapless student’s face…Her performance would become legendary. Prospective students at the event would cite her appearance as one of the reasons they chose to attend the college.”

Peggy has a unique brand for a college president – she is a former yo-yo champion who is goal oriented while being down to earth, fun loving and willing to make fun of herself. Students at Ithaca call her “P-Willie” or “The Pegster.”

I don’t know how you referred to your college president, but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t something like “The Pegster.” Eric Walker was the president of Penn State my first two years. John Oswald was the president my junior and senior year. We students referred to them as President Walker and President Oswald – and trust me, they were conservative stuffed shirts.

Peggy is well known for opening up the President’s Mansion to Ithaca students, attending Ithaca’s sporting events whenever she could, creating great relationships with alumni, and playing with her yo-yo in her office. She is also well known for raising $145 Million for capital improvements at the college – $30 Million more than the original goal; her work on sustainability at Ithaca; making Ithaca a more diverse place; and creating a service oriented culture among Ithaca students.

Peggy Williams’ brand is unique in higher education. It works because it is authentic.

I met Peggy in the fall of 1980. We were both graduate students at Harvard. There was this woman with wild, curly red hair in my Labor Relations class who always had great answers during case discussions, but who also was very funny. After a few classes, I introduced myself and we became great friends, sharing many meals at a Cambridge Chinese restaurant.

Peggy was funny and irreverent as a student. She was funny and irreverent as a college president. That’s authenticity!

Peggy’s brand was on display until the end. Guests at her retirement party received a silver plate engraved yo-yo. Peggy was kind enough to send me one, as I wasn’t able to attend.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense. Successful people create positive personal impact. People who create positive personal impact develop and nurture their unique personal brand. The best personal brands are authentic. Peggy Williams, retired president of Ithaca College, has a unique personal brand. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. And, believe me that is a truly unique personal brand in higher education. She is true to her brand. She is authentic. If you follow Peggy’s model, you too, will create positive personal impact and be on your way to a successful life and career.

That’s my career advice on authenticity in personal branding. What’s yours? Please leave a comment sharing your brand with us. As always, I appreciate you and your comments. Thanks for reading my daily musings on life and career success.


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