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Beyoncé — The Accidental CEO

I am a regular reader of Fast Company magazine. And it was interesting to me that Beyoncé graced the cover of the July/August edition.

The cover blurb was “CREATE. DEFY. SLAY. What Every Business Can Learn From Beyoncé.”

And then last Friday, there she was again. This time, in full color on page D-1 of the Wall Street Journal! The article was titled “Beyoncé’s Biggest Project Yet: CEO.”

I respect these two business publications very much, so I knew they must be on to something. But first, my recent personal experience with Beyoncé.


My eldest daughter, Alex, is obsessed with Beyoncé. When I say obsessed, I mean there is something about Beyoncé that has attracted Alex to her and her music. She goes to every concert, knows the words to every song, and basically knows her life story. So, I asked her what it was. She said:

  • Beyoncé is talented, confident, and grateful. She appreciates her fans.
  • When she (or her first group) failed, she picked herself up and moved on.
  • She knows how to assemble a great team for her music, her fashion, her brand, or anything.
  • She started the “girl power” trend in music and most of her music sings to empowerment (this is very appealing to Millennials).
  • She’s fearless and doesn’t care what people think (in a good way).
  • Even when faced with personal obstacles (think of her recent album “Lemonade”), she creates songs in an empowering way versus a sappy, melancholy, feel-sorry-for-me approach.

From what I’ve read (and saw for myself at her Formation World Tour), each detail of the staging, the program, the choreography, and the costuming had Beyoncé’s name written all over it. She is creative, yet a perfectionist.

In reading the two articles on Beyoncé, here are a few highlights that I learned about her success. All of these are excellent lessons for CEOs.

  1. She started reviewing her own profit and loss statements as a teenager. (How many of us in family businesses expose our children to P&Ls over the dinner table?)
  2. She knows what she stands for. And, she hasn’t been afraid to “fire” (some of) her fans (we call this alignment). Beyoncé received backlash from some fans when she went political during her February 2016 Super Bowl performance, but she didn’t back down.
  3. She values marketing and doesn’t dilute her brand.
  4. She’s a risk taker, but does it with discipline. She also embraces disruption. She was the first artist to drop an album unannounced, and it went straight to the top of the Billboard chart.
  5. She plays the long game—with great thought and investment. (Check out her new clothing brand, Ivy Park).

In the Fast Company article, Airbnb Chief Marketing Officer Jonathan Mildenhall is quoted: “We’re asking ourselves, so, what’s our lemonade? Because we don’t ever want to become predictable. Every time we engage with our consumers, our target audience, our community, we want to surprise them, to inspire them, to delight them. And we want to do it in a way that then drives a disproportionate share of popular conversation.”

If the chief marketing officer of Airbnb is a student of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, then I think I can be too. Business lessons can come from anywhere!

And in the words of Beyoncé, “Who needs a degree when you’re schoolin’ life?”


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