Corporate America’s Reputation Plunges; 88% Have Low Regard

Corporate America’s reputation plunged in the eyes of average Americans last year, as the rush of companies to Washington for financial support soured popular support for big business.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents in a survey said business’s reputation was either “not good” or “terrible,” the highest in the poll’s 10-year history and well above the 68 percent to 74 percent who had held that opinion over the past five years. Results of the Harris Interactive survey are to be released today.

Financial services companies and Detroit automakers were among the 60 best-known companies with the worst reputations among U.S. consumers, while drug, tech and consumer products companies were most admired, according to the survey.

“What was surprising in this year’s study was the very clear total loss of trust in corporate America,” said Robert Fronk, senior vice president at Harris. “The focus on individual rewards, the focus on greed all really added up to this incredible drop.”

Respondents said the brutal recession has darkened their view of corporate America, with 75 percent reporting their opinion of corporations was lower due to the downturn. They saw little hope for economic improvement, with 43 percent expecting conditions to get worse over the next six to 12 months.

The five companies with the worst reputations were troubled insurer American International Group Inc., oilfield services company Halliburton Co., automakers General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC, and failed savings and loan Washington Mutual.

The five with the best reputations were Johnson & Johnson , Google Inc., Sony Corp., Coca-Cola Co. and Kraft Foods Inc.


One of the striking differences in this year’s survey was the number of financial services firms that climbed into the list of the most visible companies. American Express Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wachovia Corp., Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Washington Mutual and AIG are all newcomers to the list this year.

“The financial services industry right now has a fundamental problem in regaining the trust and business of their customers,” Fronk said.

The U.S. Treasury has already pumped about $525 billion into the financial sector in a bid to keep the industry afloat through the worst financial crisis in decades. It’s also given more than $25 billion in aid to Detroit automakers General Motors and Chrysler.

Ninety-eight percent of respondents said they believed corporations needed to do more to adopt sustainable business practices, but held out little hope they would make sufficient changes on their own. Eighty-five percent said that regulation would be needed to urge them along.

The group’s polling shows that consumers are less likely to invest in or do business with companies with poor reputations.

Harris polled 20,483 Americans in two waves between September 2008 and February 2009.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Brian Moss)