Automaker Volkswagen now has the worst reputation of any major company in the United States. E-retailer Amazon.com has the best reputation, and Apple moved into second place, beating rival Samsung, which had surpassed it last year.
The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient measures public opinion of the nation’s most recognizable companies. Respondents were asked to rate companies based on six components: emotional appeal, products and services, vision and leadership, workplace environment, social responsibility, and financial performance. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the companies with the highest and lowest reputation quotients. These are the companies with the best (and worst) reputations.
Wendy Salomon, vice president of reputation management at Nielsen, which owns The Harris Poll, explained that in many cases the reputation of a given brand is directly tied to its industry. “An industry’s reputation paints all the companies within it with a broad brush.” This is likely one reason many of the companies with the worst reputations are in the financial services sector, including Bank of America, AIG, and Goldman Sachs. These banks and insurance companies, which many blame for directly contributing to the financial crisis, are still struggling to regain the public’s trust.
The burden of being part of an industry with a particularly bad image is not insurmountable. In regards to companies within the financial services sector, Salomon noted that “by focusing on their individual reputation and telling their company’s unique story, their reputation can out-pace the slow recovery that the industry is experiencing.” Insurer USAA may be doing just this, improving significantly from last year. The company currently has the fourth best reputation of any major company.
A major difference between many companies with the best and worst reputations is the type of business they do. Companies such as Apple and Kellogg Company are more consumer-facing than others, and the sales of their product are closely tied to their reputation. On the other hand, companies such as Goldman Sachs, whose clients are mostly hedge funds and institutional investors, may depend less on public opinion. Nevertheless, reputation affects the bottom line of any company, regardless of industry.
The long-term practices of a company and the sector it belongs to can each impact the image of a given company, but reputation can just as easily be shaped by a single event. Until very recently, Volkswagen had a very good reputation. The recent emissions scandal, however, decimated the company’s image to a point that it will likely not recover from any time soon. As proof of the importance of reputation, U.S. sales of Volkswagen in April were down by nearly 10% from the previous year even as the auto industry is seeing record sales. This is likely largely because of the loss of trust in the brand by American consumers.
For consumer-facing companies, reputation is closely correlated with customer service. On the American Customer Satisfaction Index, a nationwide survey measuring customer experience, many of the companies with the best reputations had among the highest customer satisfaction scores in their industries. On the other hand, the bad reputations of companies such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable are largely the result of poor customer service and are reflected in some of the lowest ACSI scores of any company.
To determine America’s most and least reputable companies, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed reputation scores among the nation’s 100 most recognizable companies from the 2016 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ), produced by Harris Interactive, a subsidiary of Nielsen. The study consists of two parts: a nominations stage in which consumers identify the nation’s most visible companies, followed by a ratings stage in which each company’s reputation is measured on a scale of 0-100. In addition, we considered company consumer satisfaction scores from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), and company information from SEC filings.
These are the companies with the best (and worst) reputations.
The Best Reputations
10. Kellogg Company (NYSE: K)
> Reputation score: 79.92
> 2015 score: 79.25
> Industry: Food manufacturing
> CEO: John A. Bryant
Kellogg has the best reputation of any major food manufacturing company. The Kellogg Company has been around for more than a century, and it is credited with pioneering the American cereal industry. The inaugural batch of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes was created in 1906, and the company has since expanded to own and operate about 30 brands, with Special K, Cheez-It, Pringles, Keebler, and Eggo among them. Customer satisfaction appears to be very important to brand reputation. On the ACSI, Kellogg ranks far higher than the food manufacturing industry as a whole.
9. Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ)
> Reputation score: 80.23
> 2015 score: 80.88
> Industry: Personal care products
> CEO: Alex Gorsky
Johnson & Johnson is perhaps unusual among the brands with the best reputations in that while it does sell products branded with its name, it also sells a variety of other brands. The company is one of the nation’s largest diversified brand companies, producing a variety of the most well-known medical, personal care, and other consumer products. Some of the company’s perhaps best known products include Band-Aid, Tylenol, Neosporin, and Listerine. The company’s reputation, while still stellar for a highly visible brand, has fallen slightly since last year, dropping from fifth overall in the 2015 Harris Reputation Survey to ninth in 2016.
8. Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B)
> Reputation score: 80.37
> 2015 score: 80.28
> Industry: Holding company
> CEO: Warren Buffett
While the financial services industry has among the worst reputations of any industry, Berkshire Hathaway bucks the trend. This may not be surprising considering that Berkshire Hathaway, while categorized as a financial services company, is really a large conglomerate with holdings in many industries, including insurance, utilities, and railroad. In a biennial memo sent to staff two years ago, CEO Warren Buffett identified reputation as the company’s priority. Buffett wrote, “We can afford to lose money — even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation — not a shred of reputation.” Much of Berkshire Hathaway’s reputation is tied to that of its CEO — the legendary investor has not shied away from public life and is also considered one of the greatest philanthropists today. The company is also revered for its financial performance. Over the last 50 years, Berkshire Hathaway has outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 10% annually.
> Reputation score: 80.44
> 2015 score: 81.98
> Industry: Cellular telephones
> CEO: Oh-Hyun Kwon
Although Apple surpassed Samsung as the most reputable technology company in 2016, the South Korean company remains a close second. Samsung has made an effort in recent years to increase its visibility to American consumers. In 2013, the company rolled out 1,400 Experience Shops within Best Buy and Best Buy Mobile locations nationwide, nearly quintuple the number of Apple retail shops in the country. Although Samsung has recently tended to outsell Apple in smartphones, the typically less expensive devices limit the company’s profitability. Although Samsung sold 83.6 million smartphones in the third quarter of 2015, Apple, which sold 46.0 million phones in the quarter, still took 94% of all smartphone profits.
6. Publix Super Markets
> Reputation score: 80.94
> 2015 score: 80.73
> Industry: Supermarkets
> CEO: Todd Jones
It truly says something about a company’s reputation if it manages to be known nationwide as one of the best of its kind despite being just a regional chain. Publix supermarkets can be found in just six Southern U.S. states, and yet the company is one of the 100 most visible brands in the country. Publix also ranks sixth for its reputation — it is known as an excellent company for its customers and employees alike. The supermarket chain regularly ranks as one of the 100 best companies to work for. It also ranks as one of the best supermarkets on the ACSI.
5. The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS)
> Reputation score: 81.18
> 2015 score: 80.04
> Industry: Media and entertainment
> CEO: Robert A. Iger
Walt Disney likely burnished its reputation this year with its slew of highly successful films. In the last few years, the company has purchased both the rights to the Marvel comic book universe as well as Lucasfilm, which owns the wildly popular “Star Wars” franchise. Between the critically-acclaimed “The Force Awakens,” which also happens to be the top-grossing U.S. film of all time, and a number of other films this year, Disney grossed more than $1 billion in just 128 days, breaking the record for a single film studio. The company’s success this year may have translated to a slight uptick in reputation. In last year’s Harris reputation survey, the company ranked 12th overall. It has moved up to fifth this year.
> Reputation score: 81.27
> 2015 score: 78.22
> Industry: Insurance
> CEO: Stuart Parker
Banks and other financial institutions have among the worst collective reputation of any major industry. This makes USAA’s rank as the visible brand with the the fourth best reputation in the country all the more impressive. In the six components of corporate reputation, USAA is rated best for its emotional appeal and social responsibility. The company provides insurance to former and current members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. The company became the official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the NFL in 2011. This increased visibility may have increased the company’s good standing. USAA also has a positive reputation for its workplace environment. The organization ranks 36th among Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for.
3. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG)
> Reputation score: 82.97
> 2015 score: 80.44
> Industry: Search
> CEO: Sundar Pichai
In the six components of corporate reputation, Google rated best for its workplace environment. In addition to generous health insurance and benefits, Google offers its employees numerous on-campus amenities such as exercise facilities, shuttles to work, and generous paid leave. But Google rates high not only among its employees, but also among its customers. The company’s reputation has improved significantly since last year, when it was ranked 10th. According to Google, there are more than 1 billion registered Android users, accounting for more than eight in every 10 smartphones worldwide. Google is also the most well-regarded search engine. With about 2.3 million searches per minute, Google has the largest reach of nearly any company. On the ACSI, Google ranks the highest in customer satisfaction of any Internet search engine.
2. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL)
> Reputation score: 83.03
> 2015 score: 80.69
> Industry: Consumer technology
> CEO: Tim Cook
Apple announced its first quarterly revenue decline since 2003 last month due to disappointing sales from the iPhone. Despite the decline, the company remains one of the most profitable companies in the United States. Apple continues to improve on its longtime stellar reputation, moving up from ninth place in the 2015 Harris reputation survey to second in 2016. The country’s largest tech companies tend to have a reputation for quality products as well as superlative customer service, yet Apple stands above the rest. The company receives the highest scores of any company among both personal computing and mobile phone companies on the ACSI. In the Harris reputation survey, Apple beats out all other major companies in vision and leadership as well as in financial performance.
1. Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN)
> Reputation score: 83.96
> 2015 score: 83.72
> Industry: Internet Retail
> CEO: Jeff Bezos
Of the six categories of corporate reputation, Amazon ranks the highest in emotional appeal and products and services. Emotional appeal includes attributes such as admiration, trust, and respect, and nearly all of Amazon’s respondents gave it the highest possible rating in this category. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has repeatedly emphasized reputation as the key to the company’s success. Throughout the company’s history, innovations such as one-click ordering, same day delivery, and customer reviews have have helped Amazon nurture trust among its customers. Amazon is now the ninth largest U.S. retailer by revenue, and by far the largest online retailer.
The Worst Reputations
10. Sears Holdings Corporation (NASDAQ: SHLD)
> Reputation score: 64.69
> 2015 score: 59.79
> Industry: Department stores
> CEO: Edward Lampert
Sears Holdings Corporation saw one of the best improvements of any company on the Harris reputation survey, improving from a score of 59.79 in 2015 to a 64.69 reputation quotient this year. Despite the improvement, Sears remains one of the 10 major companies with the worst reputations. Sears is one of the most financially-troubled major corporations in America, posting more than $1 billion in losses annually over the last three years. Shares are down nearly 70% in the past 12 months alone. Poor financial performance has likely hurt the company’s reputation, as well as its apparently poor customer service. Only Wal-Mart rates worse in customer satisfaction among department and discount stores considered by the ACSI.
9. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC)
> Reputation score: 64.26
> 2015 score: 60.73
> Industry: Banks
> CEO: Brian T. Moynihan
Banks and financial services companies are among the most poorly-rated industries in the country. The subprime mortgage crisis and subsequent recession further worsened the reputation of Bank of America and the other large U.S. banks. A large segment of the American population blames the country’s big banks for the recession, believing they directly contributed to the crisis through negligence and greed. While the industry’s reputation improved on the Harris survey since last year, only 37% of survey respondents thought positively of the industry. Only the tobacco, pharmaceutical, and government industries had a more unfavorable rating. Like the industry, Bank of America’s reputation has improved somewhat over the past two years. The company, which had the worst reputation of any company considered by Harris in 2014, ranks ninth worst this year.
8. Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH)
> Reputation score: 62.22
> 2015 score: 58.07
> Industry: Subscription Television Service
> CEO: Charlie Ergen
Dish was first launched in 1996 as an alternative to traditional cable television. The company has since grown to be the third largest U.S. television provider by number of subscribers. Satellite television providers tend to have higher customer satisfaction than cable providers, and Dish indeed outranks its main cable rivals — Time Warner Cable and Comcast — as well as the subscription television industry as a whole in customer satisfaction on the ACSI. Of satellite television providers, however, Dish Network has the lowest customer satisfaction score. The company also has relatively low employee satisfaction and was identified as one of 24/7 Wall St.’s worst companies to work for last year.
7. AIG (NYSE: AIG)
> Reputation score: 61.15
> 2015 score: 55.23
> Industry: Insurance
> CEO: Peter Hancock
Like the majority of the highly visible U.S. financial institutions, AIG’s reputation took a severe hit during the financial crisis. Also like many of the country’s major finance companies, AIG’s image has recovered somewhat in recent years. Between the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Harris poll, no company had a larger increase in its reputation score than the insurance company, improving from the second worst reputation to the seventh worst. Still, the company has a long way to go before it sheds its poor reputation, and many Americans still likely remember the $182 billion bailout the company received from taxpayers during the crisis.
6. Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS)
> Reputation score: 60.44
> 2015 score: 55.07
> Industry: Financial services
> CEO: Lloyd Blankfein
The financial services industry has the lowest reputation of any industry, and Goldman Sachs has the lowest reputation of any financial services company. Since the 2008 financial crash sunk the public image of the finance industry as a whole, the very association with Goldman Sachs has been a political risk for presidential candidates.In recent years, Goldman has taken a few measures to improve its reputation. The company has made public its pledge to invest $150 billion in clean energy projects, its $500 million program to help small businesses, and its $600 million program aimed at supporting female entrepreneurs in developing countries. The bank has seen a significant improvement in its reputation since last year, when it was ranked as the very worst company on the Harris Poll. Nevertheless, the bank remains a poster child for a corrupt financial industry and one of the least reputable U.S. companies.
5. Monsanto (NYSE: MON)
> Reputation score: 60.43
> 2015 score: 59.18
> Industry: Agriculture
> CEO: Hugh Grant
While other companies use genetically modified organisms, no company is more associated with the practice than Monsanto. The company has been the poster child of the agrichemical industry, and its contentious business practices are the subject of numerous documentaries, exposes, and protests. Monsanto is largely non-customer facing, and its status among the 100 most visible companies is likely the result of negative press. Despite a recent public relations campaign by Monsanto to improve the public opinion on GMOs, the company remains among the most hated in the United States. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 57% of Americans consider GMOs to be unsafe. In a statement by Monsanto, the company claimed that a negative reputation can affect planting approval, regulatory decisions, and customer purchases.
4. Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA)
> Reputation score: 60.21
> 2015 score: 60.04
> Industry: Subscription Television Service
> CEO: Brian Roberts
Comcast is the largest television provider by subscribers in the country and has nearly the worst customer satisfaction. In addition to poor customer service, the company has been derided for its unfavorable bundling packages and unequivocally high fees. Comcast’s reputation has worsened since last year, when it was ranked as the eighth worst company on the Harris Poll reputation survey. Because cable television providers tend to face little competition in regional markets, a negative reputation has little effect on their bottom lines. Last year, the Department of Justice blocked an attempted merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable — two of the three worst rated companies in customer satisfaction. The merger was blocked due to concerns by the Federal Communications Commission that the resulting company would enjoy too large a market share in the broadband Internet and television industries.
3. BP (NYSE: BP)
> Reputation score: 59.13
> 2015 score: 62.01
> Industry: Gasoline stations
> CEO: Bob Dudley
The majority of the companies on this list have developed their poor reputations over time, by implementing policies, methods, and products that vex customers. Some, however, owe their poor reputation to a single incident that continues to haunt them. In the case of BP, this incident happened more than six years ago, but the petroleum company is still feeling the repercussions. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and pumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The cleanup took months, and the company spent more than $40 billion in remediation costs. CEO Tony Hayward resigned in disgrace, but his departure was not enough to improve opinions about the company.
2. Halliburton (NYSE: HAL)
> Reputation score: 56.26
> 2015 score: 59.63
> Industry: Oilfield services
> CEO: David Lesar
Unlike consumer-facing companies, Halliburton’s appearance among the 100 most visible companies is likely largely the result of negative public press. The Texas-based oilfield services company has been the subject of numerous controversies, especially for its profiting off the Iraq War and connection to former CEO, Vice President Dick Cheney. Since 1995, Halliburton has paid out more than $2 billion in penalties for legal misconduct. The company was also found to be directly responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as the cementing it had done on the well under contract was found to be faulty. The company was forced to pay $1.1 billion in a settlement to Gulf coast residents and businesses. The company’s reputation has worsened since last year, when it was ranked the fifth worst on the Harris Poll reputation survey.
1. Volkswagen Group
> Reputation score: 54.75
> 2015 score: 75.21
> Industry: Automobile manufacturing
> CEO: Matthias Müller
Volkswagen’s case is proof that a company’s reputation — and fortune — can change due to a single incident. For years, clean diesel was presented as an alternative to hybrid engines and was promoted as a major reason for consumers to buy cars with TDI engines. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency accused VW of deliberately designing its vehicles to circumvent emissions tests. This was eventually confirmed, and overnight, the company went from a revered automaker to one of the most widely-disliked major companies. VW has set aside $18 billion to cover legal fees from various lawsuits and the buyback plan it is implementing for the vehicles. Volkswagen U.S. sales have plummeted as a result. The company’s reputation quotient fell by more than 20 points, from a score of 75.21 to a score of 54.75. The next biggest decline for a major company was CVS (NYSE: CVS), whose reputation quotient fell by just five points.
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