Reputation Wrap-Up

One of my favorite sayings is, “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.”   (Kierkegaard, Soren). Simple, if not a bit trite, but oh so true.  The weekly Reputation Wrap-up is our own way of looking backward to make sense of the high points, low points and everything in between in the world of reputations.

 This week, let’s take a look at reputational lessons from the financial service, health care and energy sectors. 

Business News – Not Wallpaper Anymore

“Even if you are an avowed business bobble-head, most of the time, CNBC and other financial channels are a kind of wallpaper,” wrote David Carr for the New York Times (maybe link to this?).  In an attempt to shift business news’ reputation away from the stodgy, Thompson Reutersintroduced a new product this week called: “Reuters Insider.”  

This web-based service is something like a YouTube for the financially interested, capturing streams of information from more than 200 sources.  For a fee of $2,000 per year, subscribers can navigate by sector, date, markets or region, or apply filters to create their own personalized channels.

The really interesting thing about this product is its social interactivity.  The financial world has been slow to jump into this stream due to fear of risk and regulation.   Reuters Insider is truly unique in that it allows users to share parts of video data and it relies not only on their professional video efforts, but also user-generated content.  As the Times states, “the company is redefining expertise, news and the language of information.”

It’s too soon to tell how this product will be received, but it is obvious Thompson Reuters is looking forward to the future, laying new ground and being innovative in a sector not traditionally known for breaking with tradition.

Sometimes Being a No-Name Isn’t so Bad

Key components of a corporate reputation include an organization that treats people well and is managed by respected leaders.  These respected leaders must behave ethically and foster a reputation-conscious culture, turning employees into company ambassadors.  This week, Teva, the largest prescription drug supplier in the world (even though you may have never heard of them), exemplifies this credo.

In a lengthy New York Times article this week, Teva is credited with cultivating a reputation for producing high-quality, low-cost drugs.  CEO William Marth receives kudos for his insistance (note: not just agreeing to) on flying commerical coach versus private jet (“The day they get their own plane,” says Ronny Gal, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein who tracks Teva and is a devotee of the stock, “is the day I downgrade them.”), and for cultivating a culture of excellence (“They just do it better. That’s all,” says Richard B. Silver, an analyst at Barclays Capital.)

Perhaps most importantly, Teva’s leaders adhere to the reputational principles of treating people well and of fostering a reputation-conscious culture.  Marth leveled the playing field among executives and employees by taking away reserved parking, opening up an executive entrance to all, and abolishing corner offices.  So that all 40,000 employees share a sense of purpose, the company has started an internal marketing campaign called “Everyone is 31,” a reference to the $31 billion revenue target Teva has set for itself.

Interesting article not just because of the company, but for how it’s covered.  A quality issue that could have greatly hurt the company’s reputation is buried on the second page and mentioned only briefly.  A prime example of why it is important to constantly manage a company’s reputation all along – you are given the benefit of the doubt when a crisis or issue does emerge. 

Again, when it comes to reputation, it’s better to think and act forward instead of trying to make fixes looking back.

Guilt by Association

I tried in vain to skip the topic of the Gulf Oil Spill, believing that we don’t really need yet another analysis of the situations, however, there is one aspect that warrants comment.

In managing corporate reputation, Ronald Alsop, author of The 18 Immutable Laws of Reputation, warns: “Beware the dangers of repuation rub-off.”  Partners can be toxic. In a sort of guilt by association, partnering with a disreputable organization can soil even a well-starched reputation.

The executives of BP, Halliburton and TransOcean have apparently missed this lesson.  As they continue to play the blame game, pointing fingers for the massive oil leak in the Gulf, all of their reputations are tarnishing further and further.   At least BP and Transocean address the issue right up front on their homepages, while Halliburton’s mention of the Gulf of Mexico is limited their experience drilling there.

Heads up oil companies: even if BP faces most of the blame for this crisis, the association will hurt all of your reputations.

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