question headlined the first cover story published in green@work.
Our inaugural issue, introduced more than four years ago, featured
an interview with Bill Ford just a few months after he assumed the
role of chairman of the automaking giant that bears his family name.
Ford had much to say on the subject of the environment, automobiles
and, in particular, his company, but what I remember most was a
comment he made toward the end of the interview: Its
my family name here. I want my children and my grandchildren to
be proud of that. I dont want them ever to be in a position
where they have to apologize to somebody for it.
I was reminded of Fords statement recently when reading the
results of a World Economic Forum survey of CEOs from 1,000 leading
global companies. Surprisingly, one of the reports key findings
is that these business leaders say that corporate reputation is
a more important measure of success than stock market performance,
profitability and return on investment. Three-fifths (59 percent)
of respondents estimated that corporate brand or reputation represents
more than 40 percent of a companys market capitalization.
And more than 77 percent believe that reputation has become increasingly
important the last two years. Only quality of products and services
was ranked as a more important measure of success, and that by only
three percentage points.
The reputation of a company and its products used to be regarded
as an intangible asset that was very hard to quantify, said
John Graham, chairman and CEO of Fleishman-Hillard International
Communications, a communications consultancy that assisted with
the survey. Clearly the recent wave of corporate scandals
has made CEOs reappraise the importance they attach to their corporate
Yet it can be argued that stock performance and investment activitytraditional
signals of corporate successdo, in fact, confirm that a companys
name and its reputation as a good corporate citizen is critical.
Whats at stake? Consider the recent actions of the California
State Treasurer, Phil Angelides, who has launched an initiative
to use California pension funds clout and assets$250
billion in totalto demand more disclosure of climate change
and other environmental risks from portfolio companies. Similar
actions are being considered or have been undertaken by other large
fund managers. My guess is that more than a few CEOs and Wall Street
analysts are losing sleep over this kind of news.
In a time when information is transmitted virtually instantaneously,
all it takes is a single incident where a company has not acted
as a good corporate citizen to undo years of unblemished behaviora
fall from grace that the media will most likely ensure occurs in
a very public manner. And make no mistake: shareholders large and
small will take note and take action. They will insist that their
voices be heard and the companies they invest in be held accountable.
The Social Investment Forum reports that shareholder advocacy activity
has increased by 15 percent between 2001 and 2003, a trend that
is expected to build momentum in coming years.
It takes 20 years to build a reputation, says Warren
Buffett, and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that,
youll do things differently.
Sage advice from a veteran who has staked his own reputation on
knowing how the game is played.