Replaying Reputation Woes
The trading scandal at UBS brings to mind the long journey that companies undertake to recover and restore reputations. UBS is now back at square one as they deal with the recently revealed $2.3 billion rogue trading. This reputation disaster brought me back to the days of the Societe Generale SA rogue-trading incident three years ago. If you recall, Jerome Kerviel managed to lose $7.2 billion on his derivatives scheme. The reputation drag on SocGen’s reputation today and on UBS tomorrow is quite real. The SocGen scandal has not entirely faded in the past three years. In fact, everytime one reads about what happened last week at UBS, the SocGen scandal gets replayed. This is unfortunate for those who go down the path of reputation recovery like SocGen. SocGen’s recovery program was quite extensive when you look at it from a three year vantage point — they dismissed Kerviel’s bosses, demanded that the bank move slower as new security systems were put into place and launched an internal controls program called “Fighting Back.” In addition, other measures were set forth such as spending on new IT security, starting a newly independent accounting group, beginning a SAFE (Security and Anti-Fraud Expertise) program to oversee financial operations and training 7,800 employees about fraud. Ultimately the CEO and chairman stepped down one year later. All these remedies for recovering reputation came from an article in yesterday’s WSJ and I was glad to be able to list these steps for other companies contemplating what to do when faced with sky rocket type scandals.
Yesterday morning started off with an email to me from Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings. I immediately went to the Netflix‘s CEO apology on the blog. What confused me however was the tone of the video. Although I am a loyal customer and fierce advocate of what Netflix has done for delivering movies to my home, I thought that the video apology was abit too cheery (outdoors in sunny California. albeit a parking lot) and efficient. Maybe too rehearsed is the right word. I did not get the sense that this was a very repentent CEO who had seen his stock value decline 52% since the change in pricing occurred. But what really threw me was that he did not share the stage alone. In the video, CEO Reed Hastings had the new head of the DVD spinoff, Qwikster, Andy Rendich, joining him. I always say that CEOs get all the credit when things go right but all the blame when things go wrong. Why did Hastings deflect some of that blame on this poor soul. I cannot remember the last time (if ever) I witnessed a CEO apology tied to the announcement of a new spinoff. I sincerely doubt that was a good launch plan for Qwikster. My sense is that there’s more apologizing to come. This poor guy Andy looked like he too was somehow responsible for the communciations debacle.
Despite these ramblings, the article on the Netflix problem in today’s New York Times made me smile. The authors wrote, “But in the short term, the risk to corporate reputations is palpable.” It is not often that I even see the words “corporate reputation” in a top tier publication. Usually it is referred to as brand health or brand reputation or positioning. It is fairly rare to see corporate reputation used as a commonly understood concept. My two cents is that short term feels like long term these days when you are in the spotlight. As someone said to me, it’s like a nuclear assault whether it is 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months. Ultimately, Netflix will be forgiven but like the SocGen example above, reputation damage takes its toll and lingers longer than most CEOs care to imagine.