Monday, December 22, 2008

We Need More Authenticity and Transparency

Imagine that you gave your child money to finance their education, books, room and board. Now, imagine that you called your child to ask where they were using the money and they told you that they "decided not to disclose that information". Might not be the best course of action your child should take!

This is what is happening right now with the banks that took OUR money so that they could survive the economic turmoil and free up intrabank loans and credit to borrowers. Billions have been given. The media has called the banks asking what they have been doing with the money and have been told, in many cases, that the banks "have decided not to disclose this information to the public". It turns out that Cong. Barney Frank also has received little information about what the banks are doing. Who is getting information is not really clear.

So, let's get this straight. The government uses public money--money from taxpayers--to bail out the banks and the banks then choose not to disclose how they are using the money? This does not seem like a good way to build (rebuild) public trust.

With so much public distrust of financial institutions and so much angst on "Main Steet" about not only the economy but also whether or not the $700 Billion bailout efforts by the Treasury are working, one would have hoped for a lot more. One would have hoped that the banks would in full transparency mode, trying to help a skeptical public to understand that they were using our money wisely.

Perhaps the banks have decided that it is best not to provide details to the public since these might be misinterpreted. However, the answers from the banks give no hint of this. They only smack of arrogance that has been the hallmark of the big Wall Street institutions for some time. They all got themselves into trouble with risky, ill-advised loans. Now they want us to believe that they are managing things well and do not need to answer questions from the public. Nice try!!

I really believe it's time for some tough love. We need to tell the AIGs and Bank of NY Mellon, and the other companies that do not want to share information or who decide that they will use the money for executive retainers (when there are few jobs, there is little need for a retainer to an executive), that the game is over. They have until a given date to disclose this information to Congress. If they have not met these obligations, we call back the loan. Let those who do not want to be transparent fail and consolidate with those who want to act responsibly.

The banks that are acting responsibly should start to pressure their colleagues. The reputation of the entire sector is being damaged.

Monday, December 15, 2008

British Airways and Cole Haan Have a Lot in Common

I recently returned from a reputation conference in England where I gave a presentation on brand and reputation leadership. One of the speakers before me was from British Airways. Some readers may know that British Airways and the British Aviation Authority (BAA) have been embarrassed by problems with the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London. There have been countless problems, most now corrected. While the terminal was built by and operated by BAA, it was used exclusively by British Airways. With both the public and government irate and the news media in a frenzy, the chairman of British Airways stepped forward and took the blame and the responsibility for fixing the problem. Many questioned why he would do this rather than allowing the blame to fall on BAA, where the criticism should be directed.

I applaud British Airways for their stance. They recognized that Terminal 5 and BAA is a distributor of their brand. When travelers go to Terminal 5, they do so for one reason only--to catch at BA flight. Whether or not they liked it, it was BA's problem--it impacted their brand and corporate reputation. Kudos to BA!!

I also want to compliment Cole Haan for their commitment to customer service. My wife recently purchased a purse at one of their outlets. When we got home she found that the purse was smaller than she needed. We were walking in Center City Philadelphia and stopped into a Cole Haan retail store. She saw a purse she wanted to buy and asked if the next time she was in she could bring back the purse from the outlet. We assumed that the answer would be no. Most retail stores maintain a distance from their outlets. She was told "of course; no problem".

What Cole Haan recognizes is that its brand is one both the retail and outlet stores. People are dealing with Cole Haan and they are smart enough--actually smarter than most companies--to recognize that they should deal evenly with their brand. Kudos to Cole Haan! They have gained my trust and my continued business.

I wish more companies would recognize the leasons of BA and Cole Haan--that different distribution channels do not remove the responsibilities of protecting their brand.