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Personal Branding Gone Bad- Learning from Donald Sterling

Here at Expartus, we stress the importance of a personal brand and its power in your career. A positive brand- a brand of integrity- will always be an asset, and a negative brand will eventually become a hindrance.

For proof, look no further than Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA basketball team. Mr. Sterling’s reputation for bigotry has finally come back to haunt him this week, as leaked recordings of his racist remarks to his girlfriend prompted outrage around the world.

His remarks and the attitudes they display are detestable, and I am happy to say that the NBA acted swiftly and imposed a lifelong ban and hefty fine on Mr. Sterling, and will likely force him to sell the Clippers franchise.

Personal Branding

For our discussion of personal branding, the swift and universal condemnation of his colleagues- and their lack of surprise- is perhaps the most telling element of Mr. Sterling’s story.

This article, recapping events, clearly indicates that Mr. Sterling’s actions and attitudes have long marked him as a bigot and tyrant- the writer even brands him a “morally bankrupt and despicable man”.

He also writes, “The richest slumlord in American sports ownership will make a killing on the sale, but Sterling has lost his courtside seats, his trumped-up charitable photo-ops and celebrity status in Hollywood. He’s lost his make-believe importance in the make-believe city.”

In other words, though he will likely make millions selling his team, he has lost any shred of integrity in his reputation, and has cemented a negative personal brand that will haunt him for the rest of his life.


This is, of course, an extreme example. However, it is an important reminder that seemingly innocuous or one-time actions can build up over time to create a less-than-stellar personal brand.

One remark in a private conversation might not seem like a big deal, but it can shatter your reputation. One missed meeting is tempting, but just a few could brand you as undependable. One rant on social media might not seem like a big deal until it gets brought up in a job interview later.

A real personal brand is not a label- it is a sum of your actions, choices and attitudes over the years. Guard against daily slipups, quickly apologize for mistakes, and work every day to make your actions reflect your ideals.

By doing so, you will acquire a brand that is just as powerful as Mr. Sterling’s, but with the opposite results. It will endear you to colleagues, prove your value to future schools or employers, and most importantly, help you build a character that you can reflect proudly on.

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