Bad Reputations: A Punishing Verdict for the Bailed Out

A survey of the 60 most visible corporations in the U.S. conducted by Harris Interactive using its Reputation Quotient offered little surprises at first glance.  Like a “dog bites man” story, the just-released survey (conducted Dec ’09-Feb ’10) revealed that Americans don’t trust or like financial institutions, federal agencies, tobacco companies, and most automotive companies but they do like Amazon and FedEx, they trust Johnson & Johnson, they are keen on Google and technology company and sticky note leader 3M.

What is telling about this survey of nearly 30,000 Americans is that within the sectors receiving the lowest scores are also companies scoring highest among the six pillars of a great Reputation (emotional appeal, products and services, financial performance, vision and leadership,  social responsibility, workplace environment).  Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway was #1 most highly regarded company and Ford Motor Co.  also rose to the top.  Bank of America, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs were among the least regarded among 60 listed companies.  Could the fact that those companies were bailed out by taxpayers (those surveyed) play a part in resting at the bottom of the list? Could the fact that Warren Buffet’s outstanding track record and his down-to-earth persona play a role in his company’s reputation? That Ford is perceived to be trying harder than its counterparts to win back consumers certainly played into consumers’ minds. Amazon, FedEx and Southwest (another top-lister) place customer service as a top priority — and that always factors into financial performance and overall reputation.  And Google, with its reputation as a great place to work and the first place to get answers quickly — you don’t need to search far to figure out why it made the list.

Surveys by respected, independent organizations are always an interesting barometer of stakeholders’ mood and purchase intentions.  Those at the bottom of the list are surely not surprised by the Harris results, and hopefully they are doing something about it. Which is to say, they are sticking to their knitting and not getting too caught up in another survey that distracts from the real issues.   As Warren Buffet once noted:  “A public-opinion poll is no substitute for thought.”

– Diane Schwartz

  • Danny

    This survey is spot on. Warren Buffet’s dedication to his own set of values is exemplified through Berkshire Hathaway. Buffet is one of the very few CEOs who actually writes the ‘letter from the CEO’ in his company’s annual financial report. Companies that scored high on this survey are those that communicate directly and honestly with stakeholders.