U.S. CEO reputations? Half of nation not high on head honcho

U.S. CEO reputations? Half of nation not high on head honcho

A new Harris Poll indicates that half of this nation's population sees the reputation of the nation's corporate leaders as "bad." In fact, only 25 percent of Americans view corporate leaders in all industries as having good reputations, and 26 percent said that perceptions about CEOs were neutral, a news release about the study said. 

An online survey of approximately 23,600 U.S. participants, conducted between Nov. 29 and Dec. 16, revealed that Americans think the top qualities of the nation's corporate chiefs should be trustworthiness, solid ethics and accountability. Participants thought it was less important for CEOs to be curious, bold and visible. 

"When an astounding half of the country thinks CEOs and business leaders have bad reputations, that's a major issue," Harris Poll Vice President of Reputation Management and Public Affairs Wendy Salomon said in the release. "Consumers first and foremost look for human decency traits — trust, accountability, ethics, competency, respect. The public isn't looking for a cowboy CEO. It's not about brazen, visible risk-takers. They seek a more measured individual in the leadership seat."

Other findings from poll and follow-up include:

  • Republicans and millennials feel more positively toward CEOs — compared with Democrats and Independents, the 18-to-34 age group and those who identify themselves as Republicans, report more positive views of corporate leaders than others. 
  • Most would not take political stance if they were in a CEOs shoes —75 percent of those polled said that if they were a CEO, they would not talk about their political views. In fact, in a follow-up poll of 2,000 U.S. adults conducted Feb. 27–March 1, found that respondents were divided on the question whether companies should mix business and politics at all. Slightly more than half said it wasn't important information to know about a business, while slightly fewer thought it was. 

"U.S. consumers are struggling with what to make of our political climate and where Corporate America should fit in," Salomon said in the release. "Americans' polarized views of whether or not companies should engage on politically charged issues makes this uncharted territory. "It's an exceptionally tricky area for CEOs and other business leaders to navigate. We know that companies that have taken very public stands for their beliefs are reputationally rewarded by consumers of similar conservative or liberal views, but there is also clear risk among those who feel otherwise."

The February poll found that Republicans tend to see conservative and politically vocal companies like Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby significantly more favorably than Democrats do, while Democrats see Target's reputation more positively.

  • Democrats reported better feelings about media CEOs than Republicans — 53 percent of Democrats rate media business leaders positively, while only 26 percent of Republicans do.
  • Overall, Republicans view all CEOs in a better light than Democrats — "The media industry is an anomaly, indicating that perhaps the divisive presidential election and the new administration's proclaimed 'war on the media' has had an effect on how Democrats and Republicans respond to and view that sector," Salomon said. "The media has become a lightning rod, and CEOs must work to inform the public, but also to regain all of the public's trust in a hyper-partisan environment."

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Public Companies

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