Prince Harry Fits Right In as a Silicon Valley Executive
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- There’s a certain irony in Prince Harry, a man with little corporate experience, joining BetterUp, a company that sells professional-development coaching.
The San Francisco-based firm certainly seems to have helped his career develop. Harry’s been using its services for several months. He’s meanwhile landed production deals with Netflix Inc. and Spotify Technologies Inc. Now he’s stepping into the position of chief impact officer at BetterUp itself.
Harry is far from the first royal to trade the palace for the boardroom. We’ll soon see whether he’ll follow those who have been successful, such as his father’s cousin, the Earl of Snowdon, or end up like those with spottier resumes, like his uncles Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. But there are reasons to believe he’ll make more of the executive role than his predecessors who have ventured into the workplace.
The deals that Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have signed with Netflix and Spotify through their production company Archewell Inc. are redolent of Prince Edward’s foray into the entertainment industry in the 1990s. But Markle’s media smarts and Hollywood connections bring something different to the mix, as does the couple's hip young royals image.
The fogeyish Edward’s firm, Ardent Productions Ltd., posted just one operating profit in nine years, before he resigned in 2002. An executive at NBC told the New York Times in 1999 that she was “surprised” at his lack of industry knowledge when he pitched her a miniseries project.
In comparison, David Armstrong-Jones, the Earl of Snowdon and son of the Queen’s late sister Princess Margaret, has enjoyed a fruitful and long-lasting corporate career. He founded high-end furniture company Linley in 1985. He sold control of it in 2011 after it had built up sizable debts, but he retains an interest in the firm, which posted an operating profit of 721,166 pounds ($988,646) on revenue of 14 million pounds in 2019. He’s also honorary chairman of auction house Christie’s in Europe — a role that seems to lean heavily on his ability as a networker.
Prince Andrew’s experience is more questionable. Besides his networking with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Bloomberg News reported last year that he had worked as an “unofficial door opener” for Banque Havilland SA, a Luxembourg-based private bank owned by the former Conservative Party treasurer David Rowland, which provided services to some clients with sketchy backgrounds. (The emails reviewed by Bloomberg News for the story didn’t connect Andrew to any of these clients.)
Andrew and Rowland ran a separate asset management business together that was wound down in 2019. Andrew reportedly even brought Rowland to meetings on official visits he made in his role as the U.K.’s special representative for international trade and investment. It’s an example of how royal forays into corporate work can cause trouble.
Opening doors in business is a path well-trodden by minor royals and aristocrats across Europe, who can be found across the region’s asset management institutions with a mandate to woo high-net worth individuals.
Harry’s networking skills will also be put to work to secure new business. Let’s assume for now the role has real responsibilities. The one task that was clearly defined in his new job announcement is, “Expanding BetterUp’s global community.” Valued at $1.7 billion in its most recent funding round, the company boasts a network of 2,000 professional-development coaches, who mostly work with employees of U.S.-based companies such as Snap Inc. and AT&T Inc.
If the company is seeking to expand its footprint internationally, the Queen’s grandson should be a big help. There are plenty of executives around the world who won’t be able to resist taking his calls.
But even if those calls don’t convert into sales, Harry has probably already proved his worth. Google searches for BetterUp surged in the 24 hours after the announcement — as did searches for “chief impact officer,” a title that induces a certain bewilderment.
Nonetheless, BetterUp does seem to chime with Harry’s skillset and align with his values — he has long been an advocate for better mental-health provision, a priority for BetterUp’s expert coaches. For a former royal, taking the position seems less icky than performing straight-up marketing. He’ll be bettering others as well as himself.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe's technology, media and communications industries. He previously covered Apple and other technology companies for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.
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