Failure of leadership at Oxfam

Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in January 2010.

Oxfam’s sex exploitation scandal (£) is a case study in how easily leaders can trash the reputation of their organisation when, through wilful blindness, they convince themselves that they are acting to protect it.

In a series of articles, The Times has revealed how Oxfam betrayed its purpose to help the vulnerable in Haiti, in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. It was a time when the country was devastated, and political authority had all but broken down. Senior aid workers in Haiti were able to seize the opportunity to organise the sexual exploitation of young women – including underage girls – whose desperation in the disaster presumably secured their compliance. There were said to be orgies and the exploitation of underage girls.

On Friday, Oxfam’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, nauseatingly missed the point when he spoke of “the few” who had not upheld “Oxfam’s or society’s values”. Only, it seems that the few had acted consistently with Oxfam’s values which have been revealed to be duplicitous and self-serving.

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Ethics are rising up the business agenda

About to become a mainstream subject?

Two different articles highlight the importance of ethics and integrity as corporate considerations.

Anthony D’Angelo, writing in Business Week, analyses the curious lack of attention paid to reputation management in business schools:

An analysis of highly ranked MBA programs by the Public Relations Society of America showed that only 16 percent offer a single course in crisis and conflict management, strategic communications, public relations, or whatever label one chooses to describe management of a precious organizational asset: reputation. Even that course is likely to be an elective. So glaring is this omission that it’s typical for MBA-holding executives to assume “reputation management” or “public relations” is the black art of spinning an alternative version of reality, as though that works in today’s wide-open, relentlessly scrutinized, electron-speed information environment.

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Reputation deconstructed

googleplex
Googleplex, Mountain View, California

Amazon tops the Reputation Institute’s 2011 survey of the most reputable American companies. Google leads the global survey.

In relation to the US study, the RI found that the excellent companies were:

  • 2.5 times more likely to have the CEO set the strategy for their enterprise positioning
  • 1.5 times more likely to include reputation metrics as part of their senior management “dashboard”
  • 15 times more likely to manage corporate reputation across company functions
  • 1.7 times more likely to use an outside partner to assist with corporate reputation management

There’s some interesting detail on how reputation affects consumers’ buying decisions. The RI found that people take into account their whole impression of a company, not just their view of its products or services, when deciding whether to buy:

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Welcome to London

London
Home to the reputationally challenged.

There’s some interesting coverage today of the reputational fallout of Britain’s relationship with Libya.

Philip Stephens, in the FT, examines London’s status as a place where dictators can launder their image.  He portrays a city where it is just so much a part of the everyday culture of business to deal with unsavoury regimes that the risks are normalised.

Britain, he says, has become a “coin-operated laundry for the reputationally challenged.” He’s referring not only to the PR agencies which cast dictators in a more benign light, but the investment advisors, hedge funds and private banks that help them recycle ill-gotten money into more legitimate vehicles.

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The LSE and Gaddafi

Colonel Gaddafi, erstwhile friend of the LSE
Colonel Gaddafi, erstwhile friend of the LSE

Sir Howard Davies, Director of the LSE, defending the LSE’s acceptance of a £1.5 million donation from Saif Gaddafi makes for interesting listening.

Today, it is uncontroversial to point out that a leading university of the social sciences might be compromised by accepting money from the family of a pernicious dictator. Saif Gaddafi’s bellicose statement last week in support of his father’s regime in Libya has seen to that. But when the decision was taken – only seven weeks ago – the calculation must have looked very different.

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