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Corporate reputations – how they are built, sustained, enhanced and if necessary repaired – are all part of the remit of the latest research and teaching centre at Oxford University in the UK.
Through six main research strands the centre will examine topics such as reputation and operations, for example how supply chain issues can interact with reputation, and reputation and organisation, looking at factors such as the dynamics of reputation and the interaction between different groups of stakeholders.
The centre has a multi-disciplinary research agenda and will draw on the university’s wider resources.
To boost its research abilities still further, the centre will appoint approximately 40 international research fellows. These fellows will have a specific brief to focus on economics, law, psychology, politics and sociology. The research will in turn feed through into the centre’s teaching activities.
The teaching programmes will cover three areas: undergraduate, consisting of a distinguished speaker annual lecture; a graduate module, with reputation teaching electives for MBA and EMBA participants; and short programmes for senior executives which will cover areas such as preparing to be a chairman and preparing to be a chief executive officer.
The centre will have the benefit of the expertise of 70 international visiting fellows representing a range of sectors such as industry, journalism, the civil service and the professions.
The fellows, including Frederick Kempe, president and chief executive of the Atlantic Council of the United States, Sir Michael Rake, chairman of BT Group and Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times newspaper, will take part in the centre’s teaching programmes.
A global advisory board, comprising some of the visiting fellows, will also give its opinion on the centre’s academic focus, research agenda and its relevance to business.
In the past two years there has been considerably more corporate focus on the importance of reputation, says Rupert Younger, director of the centre.
“In the past it was about product quality, now it is about brand provenance,” he says.
“Reputation is central to business,” adds Bob Wigley, chairman of Europe, Middle East and Africa at Merrill Lynch International and chairman of the global advisory board.
“How a corporation behaves, will determine its reputation.”
Today’s marketplace he adds is a very competitive one in terms of talent. A company’s employees, he says, are its most important stakeholders, its only real asset. How a board is perceived – its reputation – will impact on these stakeholders.
The way in which a company is perceived has a big impact on the recruitment and retention of staff, adds Roger Parry, a visiting fellow and chairman of Johnstone Press, a UK local newspaper publisher.
“This [reputation] is not about PR, this is about how I want my company to be perceived...There is certainly a need for companies to think about these issues in a systematic and structured way, it is a real and genuine issue.”
The centre, he says, has a real role to play because it allows students, business and practitioners of business to interact.
“I think it is going to be very interesting and a two-way street. I think we will all learn a lot from it.”