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How To Become An Ethical CEO: On Motivation And Marketing With Erik Huberman


Erik Huberman, CEO of Hawke Media, founded the full-service marketing consultancy firm nearly a decade ago with the goal of making it easy for business owners to outsource any level and any aspect of their marketing and eCommerce campaigns, from strategy to execution. But entrepreneurism has always been in his blood, from the time he started a neighborhood business at age 6 selling items from his home. 

With aspirations to be a rock star like one of his idols, Sting, young Erik asked his father for an electric guitar. His father told him to get a job and buy one. So, like any 6-year-old would do (or maybe not?), Huberman started a business selling his parents’ belongings. 

“I walked around my house with a big trash bag and filled it with anything I thought my parents didn’t need anymore,” he recalls in his upcoming book, The Hawke Method. “I slung the bag over my shoulder and went door to door with my best friend.” 

Huberman remembers feeling guilty about selling his parents’ items and sharing the money with a friend. “Thankfully, my dad was only slightly upset that his golf balls were missing,” he writes. Perhaps this was the young entrepreneur’s first lesson toward becoming an ethical CEO, and learning how to put the needs of consumers, the community, and workers ahead of company profits or personal wealth. 

Huberman’s Early Years as an Entrepreneur 

It was just two short years later that Huberman launched his first successful business, buying and selling Beanie Babies (the hot toy at the time). This was after a lemonade stand that only made $14 per day. Even at 8 years old, Huberman understood that finding an in-demand product was crucial to a retailer’s success. 

He made $5,000 in just a few months, buying Beanie Babies and reselling them at trade shows. He purchased the electric guitar he’d wanted for years plus a BMX bike. He saved the rest of the money to purchase his first car years later. 

Throughout high school, Huberman practiced the guitar and didn’t give up his dream of becoming a world-renowned rock star. But he also maintained his interest in business. “I realized that even if I was going to be a guitarist, I would need to understand the business side of things, too,” he writes in his book. He soon realized he didn’t have the disposition to make it big time in the music industry, and shifted gears to focus on entrepreneurial endeavors. He had a good role model, as his father ran a real estate business and encouraged him from an early age to work for the things he wanted — including that electric guitar! 

From Beanie Babies to Real Estate … and Back to Marketing

Huberman attended the University of Arizona, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management. During college, he dabbled in real estate, influenced by his father’s business. He also honed his sales skills as a representative for Cutco, where he met his eventual co-founder. He then started a storm-drain filtering business with a friend, running it during summer break. When the business took off, Huberman realized he had a choice between finishing college and focusing on the business full-time. “I ultimately realized I didn’t want to filter storm drains for the rest of my life,” Huberman writes. He gave his partner the business without worrying about a buyout — yet another indication of his ethics as a businessperson. 

After completing college, Huberman studied to get his real estate license and began working in the industry in September 2008. “One week later, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and the entire banking industry collapsed,” Huberman writes. “I made $350 that whole year. Back to square one again.” 

Huberman took his entrepreneurial drive and all he’d learned in college, combined with his real-world experience, to launch his own marketing consultancy firm, Erik Huberman Consulting, which eventually led to the takeoff of Hawke Media. 

While running his consulting business, he also helped launch Fame Wizard, a platform for aspiring musicians, and co-founded Swag of the Month, Inc., a cutting-edge apparel subscription service for men. 

Ethical and Successful: How To Become a CEO 

Successful CEOs follow many career paths and come from many walks of life. However, there are a few common threads that tie them together. Successful CEOs understand how to leverage the resources around them to learn, make connections with other successful individuals, and walk a path of constant self-improvement. 

Ethical CEOs are not afraid to look inside themselves, explore their values, and identify areas where they are (or are not!) running their companies in alignment with those values. This may include reading leadership development books, joining mastermind groups and community organizations full of like-minded individuals, and working with mentors and business coaches who have the kind of success you aspire to. 

Significantly, successful entrepreneurs create a life “by design.” As serial entrepreneur Rob Dyrdek pointed out in a video interview with Huberman, an entrepreneur’s life is a series of interconnected systems. By designing each system around the type of person you want to be and the type of life you want to create, you can make it all work together to expand your energy, possibilities, and success. 

Personality Traits of an Ethical CEO 

Ethical CEOs must, almost by definition, be introspective. They must not be afraid to explore their own tendencies and character traits. They also make improvements when they might be tempted to act in a way that is not in alignment with their morals. 

“We are not born with character. It’s not inherent. It’s something we have control over,” said Tamara Lundgren, president and CEO of Schnitzer Steel Industries, during a panel discussion at the 11th Annual Global Ethics Summit. At the summit, which took place in New York City in 2019, C-suite executives, board members, and leaders of the ethics and compliance industry discussed the topic of ethical CEOs. 

Among the traits of highly ethical CEOs, panelists spotlighted transparency, initiative, and willingness to take a stand for what they believe in. The latter may come in the form of charitable contributions or matching contributions from customers, volunteer efforts, or, of course, partnering with brands that feel as you do about important issues such as sustainability or stamping out world hunger.

As CEO of Hawke Media, Huberman leads the charge on multiple initiatives designed to help charity organizations throughout the year, including Found Animals and the Orphaned Starfish Foundation. In November 2020, Hawke Media partnered with MISLA–Made in South LA and MARTY–Making a Reality That’s Yours to launch the first digital marketing academy in Los Angeles, FlyForward Academy. Adults and youths alike attended the academy, on scholarships, to learn skills such as digital and social media marketing and web design. 

“For myself and Hawke Media, we believe the most important way to benefit society is to improve our education so that we empower others to solve problems of their own,” Huberman said in a press release. “FlyForward Academy is our way of leveraging the talent at Hawke Media to help others gain skills that they can use to help them land amazing jobs, build up their communities, and improve the life of themselves and those around them. The Hawke team and I have loved our experience working with the students so far and are excited to continue to expand this program to reach more and more people.”

Such initiatives build trust between an organization and its employees as well as its customers, while positioning the brand in a positive light. But ethical CEOs participate in these activities not because it’s good marketing, but because it’s the right thing to do. 

The Hawke Method: Guidelines for Ethical CEOs

At his marketing consultancy, Hawke Media, Huberman models ethical behavior and delivers the best work to clients. He uses a proven framework to deliver results, based on the three pillars of marketing: awareness, nurturing, and trust.  

Ethics comes into play with each element of marketing, but especially in building and maintaining the trust of your target audience. If you do what you say you’re going to do, deliver what you promise, and keep your actions in alignment with your brand, your approach as an ethical CEO will carry over to the companies you run, creating success at every level. 

Huberman outlines the three principles of marketing in The Hawke Method, which promises to do for business and marketing what Dale Carnegie did for interpersonal relationships with How to Win Friends and Influence People.


Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer specializing in technology, e-commerce, and finance, and is the owner of the boutique content-marketing agency Allcot Media and GeekTravelGuide.net, a travel and entertainment website.

Special thanks to our friends at HawkeMedia for their insights on this topic.
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