Reputation and private equity join up

riInteresting news came across my alerts yesterday. A private equity company, Catalyst Investors, made a minority equity investment in Reputation Institute.  This news caused a friend of mine, Bruce Rogers, who is the chief insights officer for Forbes and columnist on thought leadership to write, "Reputation management is the new black in corporate strategy." He sure is right. The topic of reputation is now radioactive. I think it has nearly passed the term "sustainability" in terms of sheer mentions (I did not think I was right but I was!...in a Google search I just did, reputation had nearly 406 million hits and sustainability had 82 million). I enjoyed reading Bruce's interview with partners at RI. Interesting fact -- according to the partners from RI, they have grown 43% on average per year over the past 8 years. This speaks to reputation's importance on CEO and board agendas today.

Bruce asked how companies were implementing reputation management programs and one of RI's partners, Nicolas Georges Trad, responded in the following way:

“Companies find themselves at different stages of the reputation journey. From Stage 1 where they are exploring what reputation is and how it is affecting their business. Over Stage 3 where they have company specific intelligence that they can use for business planning and integration. To Stage 5 where they are able to make reputation based decisions because they have the relevant intelligence on what matters to customers and other key stakeholders. But this is still a new business focus. 87% of companies are still in stage 1-3 but we see a wave of companies investing in reputation management to move up the chain and use reputation as a business driver." This is an accurate assessment from what I can tell too. The good news is that companies are starting the journey.

Upon hearing the news, I sent an email to the executive chairman and founder of RI, Charles Fombrun, congratulating him. I met Charles many years ago when he held his first reputation forum at New York University. It must have been the end of the 1990s and there were few reputation tracking programs available at all. There was Fortune's Most Admired which I was intimately familiar with and the seeds of Reputation Quotient that Charles had just started thinking about. That may have been also when I met my good friend and reputation expert Joy Sever who worked with Charles on that first RQ.  I recall the forum well because I was not happy hearing the criticism about the Most Admired study and how it needed changing (he was right) to reflect the many dimensions of reputation. I can't say for sure but Charles had at that time written the first book on reputation and my books soon followed on slightly different topics -- the role of the CEO in reputation building and reputation recovery and defense.

Ironically just this past week, I presented my thoughts on reputation trends to RI's other founder, Cees van Riel, and his communications executives working on their masters degrees at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. It felt like I had gone full circle from that day I attended the forum at NYU -- the news that reputation was a worthy investment, seeing Cees after many years, emailing with Charles and of course reading Bruce's column. Bruce and I were once dueling CMOs when he led Forbes' marketing and I ran Fortune's. Three degrees of separation.

Congratulations to RI, Charles and Cees and the others I know, for building interest in reputation, adding to the body of knowledge on reputation with solid global data and providing gravitas to the world of reputation