In a past age, the American robber baron class would combat bad publicity by building a library or calling in the Pinkertons. Today, Silicon Valley’s captains of industry convince people they’re not a horror-show money vampires simply by growing cool beards.

A new profile of Uber’s megalomaniacal CEO Travis Kalanick includes two interesting pieces of info: he denies being a libertarian, and has grown a beard:

Kalanick still seems, to borrow one of his favorite words, “fierce,” but there is also something slightly cowed about him these days. Maybe it’s his gray beard, or the way his shoulders slump when he sits, or how his hands seem to shake as he talks.

Ol’ gray beard graces Fast Company’s latest (very generous) cover:

Does he look friendlier to you with those extra hairs? Does that look like the mug of a man less likely to replace his fleet of contract pseudo-employees with a fleet of self-driving robot cars as soon as possible? Does he still seem like the kind of CEO who would threaten to smear a journalist over her personal life, sabotage his competitors, and just generally luxuriate in his own prickishness?

If the answer is yes, it’s because Kalanick is taking a page from the playbook of other likely sociopaths in tech who’ve turned to cheek growth when their humanity is in doubt.

Say, people who might’ve screwed their friends and partners out of their stake in Twitter:

Or if you’re a legendary corporate tyrant who also abandoned his daughter:

Or an investor who can say “technology innovation disproportionately helps the poor more than it helps the rich” with a straight face:

It’s been enough to spark a trend among aspiring startup sociopaths in the Bay Area, hoping to catch a bit of the Jack Dorsey success with a bit of the Jack Dorsey beard. ReCode even quoted a beard expert who might explain why tech’s villain figures are grooming less:

That hasn’t stopped Andreessen, Williams or Dorsey. These “are guys who are creative, they push the envelope in their fields,” Dr. Peterkin said. “They’re perhaps saying, ‘I’m no corporate slave, I’m rich enough, smart enough and powerful enough to do as I wish.’”

Maybe. Or maybe with so much time innovating and uplifting the species, there’s less time than ever to shave?

Photo of Steve Jobs: Getty

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