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Celebrity CEOs Are Dying Out: Is Crypto Better off Without Them?

Last Updated November 27, 2023 12:00 PM
James Morales
Last Updated November 27, 2023 12:00 PM

Key Takeaways

  • CZ is the latest crypto CEO to be caught up in a scandal.
  • Startups are often known for their high-profile leaders.
  • Entrepreneurs are natural risk-takers, but as the sector matures, a different kind of CEO is needed.

Between Sam Altman and Changpeng Zhao (CZ), recent business and technology headlines have been dominated by celebrity CEOs. 

In Altman’s case, the convoluted saga of his firing and rehiring demonstrated just how much sway the OpenAI CEO has. Meanwhile, although some will miss CZ, who stepped down as Binance CEO following his recent arrest, the exchange could be better off without him.

Binance Replaces Superstar CEO

In place of CZ, Binance has appointed the relatively unheard-of Richard Teng as its new CEO.

Teng’s appointment is intended to send a clear signal that Binance is taking regulatory compliance seriously.

Before joining the crypto exchange in 2021, he spent his career ensuring businesses follow the rules. First as an auditor, then as a regulator in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, Teng has always focused on minimizing risks.

The contrast with his predecessor couldn’t be more stark. 

Zhao famously sold his house to buy Bitcoin in 2015. A wild decision by most people’s standard’s, but entrepreneurs are risk-takers by nature – the kind of person who can give up a steady job and commit their life savings to founding a business, knowing very well that it might fail. 

Startup culture feeds on these extreme personalities, and stories like CZ’s form part of the mythology of entrepreneurialism. But as businesses mature, a CEO who takes risks can become a liability.

Yiannis Giokas is the Senior Director for Digital Assets at Moody’s Analytics, a company that specializes in assessing corporate risk. He said CZ’s departure marked the end of an era for Binance and an inflection point for the wider crypto sector, but that the industry isn’t unique:

“High profile executives in all frontier markets, from .com, to Web2 to Web3 and beyond have a certain “personality” that enables them to take the risk of exploring uncharted waters, raise funds and in some cases create a successful business,” he told CCN.  

Overcoming the Crypto Sector’s Reckless Past

From Do Kwon to Sam Bankman-Fried, CZ joins a list of crypto CEOs whose legacy has been besmirched by criminal charges and convictions. 

Of the 3, Zhao’s reputation is probably the most intact, his crimes being of a more bureaucratic nature than those of Kwon and Bankman-Fried, who defrauded thousands of everyday crypto users.

Once all is said and done, potentially on his release from prison, CZ may well be able to reinvent himself. 

He has said  he has no interest in founding another startup and intends to take a more background role investing in Web3 startups. And frankly, it’s probably a role he’s better suited to.

As markets mature, startups grow into large enterprises, with more responsibilities to customers and investors. Giokas observed that as these changes occur, “a new set of executives come along that are less prone to cutting corners or moving in the gray zone of regulations and laws.”

There is probably more scandal on the horizon. It also seems unlikely that we’ve heard the last of the celebrity CEO. But from new leaders to the rise of crypto IPOs it’s clear that change is underway.

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