The DeHavilland Blog

Monday, February 05, 2007

Corporate reputation

Harris Interactive and The Wall Street Journal came out last week with the results of their 8th annual ranking of the world’s best and worst corporate reputations based on a survey conducted by Harris. (See here for the article “How Boss’ Deeds Buff a Firm’s Reputation” in the Journal.)First place went to Microsoft, an unthinkable achievement even five years ago, when the company was known more for its unfair business practices than for its social accomplishments. However, thanks to the philanthropic work of Bill Gates in education, health, and a number of other areas, the firm now boasts the greatest corporate reputation in the world. From the article:

"The involvement of Bill Gates and his wife in their charitable foundation has had a definite impact on Microsoft's reputation," says Enriqueta Lopez Ramos, a survey respondent and retired university professor in San Benito, Texas. "It's hard to separate Bill Gates's image from that of Microsoft; to me, they're one and the same."

While Microsoft and a handful of others (Johnson & Johnson, UPS, etc.) are held in high regard, the corporate world as a rule is not:

The corporate world's overall reputation remains dismal, with new scandals emerging, such as the improper dating of stock-option grants to business executives. About 69% of respondents graded corporate America's reputation as either "not good" or "terrible," just slightly lower than the 71% in 2005.

"At a time when being big is a bad thing, it is important that companies tell the world they care about more than just their stockholders," says Andria Lickfelt, a homemaker in Springdale, Ark., who gave Sears Holdings Corp. high marks for its sponsorship of the television program "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Sears "has taken a step up in my mind because every week you see a family's life changed on the show, and Sears is a part of that."

Given the many benefits afforded by a positive corporate reputation, and the fact that the aggregate reputation of businesses is so bad, it’s surprising that there’s not more of an investment in a hot-button issue like education. According to the US Chamber, businesses contribute $2.5 billion annually in goods and services to public education; compare this with the profit of $39.5billion announced by ExxonMobil for 2006 alone. Granted, it’s a record profit, but the fact remains that if businesses wanted to improve their reputations to reap the associated benefits, they have the means to do so.

And, while I’ve been mum about a company initiative, I’ll soon be able to provide evidence as to the warm reception businesses would receive by knocking on the schoolhouse doors. More to come soon on that point – but for now suffice it to say that partnering with education can provide a win for both sides, and based on reported investment levels and the interest recorded in such partnerships by schools, there’s certainly room to grow.

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