CEOs: We Have A Reputation Problem

Harris Poll: Half of Americans Say CEOs Have a Bad Reputation

  • Americans Seek Trusted, Ethical, Accountable CEOs
  • Majority of U.S. Consumers Say If They Were CEO, They Would Avoid Taking a Stand on Political Issues
  • Republicans Significantly More Positive about Business Leaders’ Reputations Yet Democrats View Reputations of Media Industry CEOs More Positively than Republicans

50% of Americans rate the reputations of today’s CEOs and corporate leaders as “bad,” according to research from The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient, which has identified movement, trends and insights in a changing corporate reputation landscape for the past 18 years.

Only one-quarter of the public rates CEOs with “good” reputations; 26% are neutral.

According to the Harris Poll study, which polled more than 23,000 U.S. adults, Americans cite trusted, ethical and accountable as the most important traits for CEOs, while it is less important for business leaders to be curious, visible and bold.

The Harris Poll 2017 Reputation Quotient
Most Important, Least Important CEO Traits

Most Important CEO Traits

Least Important CEO Traits

1. Trusted

21. Resilient

2. Ethical

22. Visible

3. Accountable

23. Risk-Taker

4. Competent

24. Bold

5. Respectful

25. Curious

“When an astounding half of the country thinks CEOs and business leaders have bad reputations, that’s a major issue,” said Wendy Salomon, vice president of reputation management and public affairs, The Harris Poll. “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.”

Republicans, Millennials Rate CEO Reputations More Positively

The Harris Poll study finds that Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or Independents are to give CEOs a “good” rating, while Millennials (age 18-34) view CEO reputations more positively than older generations.

The Harris Poll 2017 Reputation Quotient
Ratings of CEO Reputations

General Public

Democrat

Independent

Republican

Good

24%

25%

19%

31%

Neutral

26%

23%

25%

27%

Bad

50%

52%

56%

42%

General Public

Millennials

Gen X

Baby Boomers

Silent Generation

Good

24%

33%

25%

20%

25%

Neutral

26%

26%

26%

25%

26%

Bad

50%

42%

49%

56%

49%

Majority Says If They Were CEO, They Would Not Take Stand on Political Issues

As CEOs wrestle with taking a public stand for company values in a divided U.S. political climate, the majority (75%) of Americans say if they were CEO of a large company, they would avoid taking a position on political issues.

The additional Harris Poll research, which was conducted among more than 2,000 U.S. adults February 27 – March 1, shows that Americans are divided when it comes to companies mixing business and politics. Half (51%) of consumers expect companies to have a clear position on visible political matters while more than half (59%) say that understanding a company’s position on political issues isn’t that important.

“U.S. consumers are struggling with what to make of our political climate and where Corporate America should fit in,” said Salomon. “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.”

A Harris Poll study released in February indicates that Americans view the reputations of some companies as aligned with their individual values. Republicans hold the reputations of Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby — companies that have vocally shared their conservative beliefs — significantly more favorably than Democrats do. Democrats perceive Target’s reputation more positively.

More Positive Ratings for Media Industry CEOs — From Democrats

While generally, conservatives rate most industry leaders higher than liberals, the Harris Poll research shows that Democrats (53%) rate business leaders in the media industry significantly higher than Republicans do (26%).

“When viewing CEO reputation via an industry lens, 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,” said Salomon. “The media has become a lightning rod, and CEOs must work to inform the public, but also to regainall of the public’s trust in a hyper-partisan environment.”

So much for a CEO as a President of the United States.