Ricochet News

Reputation… you can’t fake it, you have to live it

By Annelize van Rensburg - Jun 13, 2017
Reputation… you can’t fake it, you have to live it

Corporate reputation can’t be quantified at operational level. It doesn’t show up in quarterly revenue columns or profit lines.

Quantification becomes possible, however, in at least two scenarios… when you lose your good name and your share price and sales plummet or when you sell the business and the premium paid for goodwill ensures top dollar (or not).

Either way, reputation clearly emerges as a tangible asset and a strategic business imperative.

However, corporate scandals in banking, automotive manufacture, high-tech, Big Oil, Big Pharma and many other areas suggest it’s all too easy for businesses to follow the money rather than follow their consciences.

When this happens, a business endangers a reputation built over decades. Repair work might take just as long and be extremely costly.

Benjamin Franklin put it neatly: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation; only one bad one to lose it.”

Years later, his compatriot Abraham Lincoln highlighted an important distinction. He remarked: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow.  The shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing.”

In other words, reputation is perception and that perception is determined by character – your nature and make-up as a person or company.

Corporate reputation is not a function of how slick your PR team is or how smart your lawyers are. Reputation reflects corporate culture.

If you’re a sharp operator wedded to self-interest no matter what the law says or basic fairness demands, this ultimately becomes apparent. Your true colours show.

Research points to four contributors to a good name:

  • Authenticity (you are solid and credible; you  always keep your promises)
  • Consistency (you are always reliable and do what you say you’re going to do)
  • Truthfulness (you are trusted because you always tell the truth)
  • Readiness to make good (cover-ups compound the damage; apologise and make amends, always do the right thing).


A company’s inner character ensures these traits shine through. Character is supported by business leaders who act ethically and embrace good governance.

An ethical approach results in strategic thinking and readiness to absorb temporary knocks for the long-term good.

Social media scrutiny widens the reputational challenge and risk.

Ethical leadership is not enough. It is necessary to visibly live these values in all actions and interactions; locally, nationally and internationally.

You are judged by the company you keep, here and overseas. Suppliers, partners and associates must subscribe to similar values.

Remember, when Enron went belly up, in effect, it brought its accounting firm down with it – a business that at the time was one of the world’s big five accounting and auditing groups.

Cover all bases, even unlikely ones. If you don’t, you risk reputational disaster.

The Titanic was the pride of the White Star Line and practically unsinkable. That didn’t stop her going to the bottom after hitting an iceberg that should not have been so far south at that time of year.

White Star’s reputation was never the same again …