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MISSION:INTANGIBLE, the blog of the Intangible Asset Finance Society, offers critical comments on intangible asset, corporate reputation, and finance; supplemented by quantitative reputation metrics. Intangible assets include business processes, patents, trademarks; reputations for ethics and integrity; quality, safety, sustainability, security, and resilience; and comprise 70% of the average company's value. MISSION:INTANGIBLE is a registered trademark of the Intangible Asset Finance Society.

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United Airlines: "Wasn't Me!"

C. HUYGENS - Friday, April 14, 2017
"Infuriated' United Airlines pilots want you to know that passenger was dragged off Republic plane" Read more at the IndyStar.

Supply Chain Needs More Than Hamburger Helper

C. HUYGENS - Monday, September 08, 2014
We've all seen the movie. Somewhere in the supply chain a lurking risk manifests in a very public way. Business unit profits are wiped out, corporate risk management costs skyrocket, and corporate directors are pilloried by activist investors. The insurers of the world, without whom supply chains would ground to a halt, are demanding thoughtful action.

Read more.

Reputation: Who's asking?

C. HUYGENS - Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Reputation is a reflection of the implicit social contract between a company and its myriad stakeholders. One size does not fit all.

Ron Orol reports this week in Capital Report that supply-chain management, interest-rate risk and sustainability issues are three topics that are high on the list of concerns raised by investors in U.S. corporations. He writes:

Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant at the Securities and Exchange Commission, said shareholders’ focus will vary by industry. Big banks, for example, need to explain to investors how they will manage their risk as interest rates rise, he said. “If you are retail corporation, supply-chain stuff has got to be at the top of the list,” Turner said. “If you are a financial institution today, what is going on with interest rates and, as interest rates rise, being able to manage your debt, being able to explain to investors how you are positioned to deal with the risk as interest rates rise and spreads change is going to be very important.” He added that oil and gas companies invested in natural resources will need to respond to investors with environmental concerns.

Steel City Re calculates measures of reputational value that report company performance against that which stakeholders expect -- the implicit social contract. Those metrics "aren’t value judgments, they’re tangible proof of the quality of stakeholder relationships."

Consensiv, a consultancy focusing on returns in investments in reputation and which incorporates the licensed metrics into robust management solutions, explains the inherent value in what are agnostic measures. "We don’t decide what causes matter, or how to best substantiate our beliefs that they should have effects. We measure effects as a platform from which to better explore and reveal causes."

Companies seeking to maximize stakeholder value, the value of the implicit social contracts, aka, reputational value, will be sure to know what is of greatest concern to their stakeholders. They will find creative ways to enable stakeholders to appreciate and value that which they are doing, and monitoring tools to ensure that they are meeting stakeholders' expectations.

Reputation Risks in the Supply Chain

C. HUYGENS - Tuesday, May 21, 2013
John R. Lund, then the senior vice president of Disney Parks Supply Chain Management for Disney Destinations LLC, told Supply Chain Quarterly, “The reputation of a company is fundamentally affected by the choices you make in running a supply chain.” Some of the details of Disney's approch to managing its reputation through supply chain controls are detailed in the 2012 publication, Reputation, Stock Price, and You: Why the market rewards some companies and punishes others.

Yesterday, Business Insurance magazine weighed in to the debate with an article prompted by the recent tragic collapse of a building in Bangladesh housing many clothing suppliers. There are a number of proposed strategies in the alternative reflecting the diversity of understandings of what comprise reputational risk. The most expensive, which seem to be addressing after-the-fact-liabilities, will probably not yield the best reputational results. The most efficient, however, require the paradigm shift advocated by firms such as Steel City Re and Consensiv; and by a growing number of risk advisers.

Ikea: Not horsing around

C. HUYGENS - Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Swedish meatballs are funny. Just ask the Muppets. But there is nothing funny when Ikea has to pull Swedish meatballs from the shelves because they, too, have been contaminated by horse meat. Once again, it's the supply chain, stupid!

Now comes further news from Expert Recall that the US Food and Drug Administration documented 552 food product recalls in the fourth quarter of 2012, setting a new record high in at least nine quarters. It's not just food. Recalls of 85 consumer products were announced at the request of the CPSC in the fourth quarter of 2012, representing a six-quarter high. Last, 45% of the of pharmaceutical companies documented in the fourth quarter faced more than one event—the largest percentage of companies with repeat violations in at least ten quarters.

The global supply chain is in desperate need of better oversight and operational control. Yes, supply chains were once a great source of value creation. But the push for cost savings has created a whole new set of risks. Many of these issues were discussed most recently at the February Mission Intangible Monthly Briefing where the Society's program featured Daniel Diermeier, IBM Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice and Director, Ford Motor Company Center for Global Citizenship, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University and author of Reputation Rules: Strategies for Building Your Company's Most Valuable Asset; and Scott Childers, Director of Integrated Trade Management at The Walt Disney Company, and a member of the Society's Reputation Leadership Council.

But awareness of the problem is not new, and with this 16th blog note on supply chain issues, Huygens once again calls attention to the fact that a firm's reputation is no better than what is ultimately made possible by the weakest member of the supply chain. It doesn't matter if the supply chain member is  the supplier of meat for (beef) meatballs, the active molecule for preparations of Sodium Heparin, or the maker of fencing materials for NASCAR-sanctioned speed raceways. The retailer at the end of the chain is where all supply chain risk concentrates.

YUM!: Food safety issue comes home to roost

C. HUYGENS - Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Everybody has problems. Boeing has an airplane problem. Tesco has a hamburger problem. And YUM! has a chicken problem. Three different commercial sectors each with quality problems, often leading to safety issues, with one common element. All of the problems originated within the companies' supply chains, comprise failures in operational oversight and control, and have the potential for blossoming into full-on reputational crises.

Reputational crises are expensive. Customers slow down their purchase frequency and extend the their purchase decision cycle, to say nothing of their resistance to premium pricing. But the pain goes further. Vendors offer less favorable terms; creditors raise the cost of capital, employee turnover is but one indicator of morale problems that start brewing, NGOs take interest, and regulators start paying more attention. And of course, equity investors, who have the shortest fuse, sell. That is why Huygens prefers to call them, "reputational value crises."

CNBC reported yesterday that Yum Brands, the parent of restaurant chains Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, reported surprise weakness in China. "This skews to the worst case for the company," said David Palmer, managing director and senior food & restaurant analyst at UBS, who covers the company. China represents almost half of the business, in profit terms, for the company, he said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

Forbes reported, "At YUM’s analyst day on December 6, 2012, we asked CEO David C. Novak what his “defense” was to media exposes that one of KFC China’s suppliers had pumped its chicken full of chemicals to expedite their growth. The story prompted a furious social media reaction. His answer was “No worries. It will blow over.” When asked how, he shrugged: “It always has.”

Turning to a measure of reputational value, the Steel City Re reputational value metrics, the measures for YUM! in contrast to McDonald's, the sector reputational leader, are informative. The problem, it seems, hasn't blown over. The company's reputation ranking is sinking steadily and the forecast last week as shown below, before this week's news, was for further deterioration. The steadiness of the deterioration was suggested by the RVM volatility measures and the median forecast stability numbers. RVM, as Huygens' followers know, is a non-financial measure of reputational value.

YUM!'s loss would reasonably be expected to by McDonald's gain. MCD, with a CRR, a measure of relative reputational ranking, buried at 1.0 for the sector, could only gain in RVM.  MCD's RVM volatility suggests this is the case, and not surprisingly, its ROE has been climbing as YUM!'s has been sinking. 

The moral: supply chains are great sources of cost savings, value, operational risk, and reputational value risk. Their operations need to be overseen and controlled no less so than organic operations. And if the excuse is that the whole point of outsourcing was to reduce the costs associated with organic controls and oversight, well, then, add that sentence to the ever-growing collection of things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Tesco: Reputation is stable

C. HUYGENS - Tuesday, February 05, 2013
"They’ve found horse meat in Tesco burgers? It’s an unbridled disaster." Through internet-wide humor, at the very least, Tesco is being reminded that supply chains can be a major source of quality risk. As the FT reports:

Having inquired into the provenance of beefburgers that contained horsemeat, it has dumped Silvercrest, its supplier of frozen burgers, essentially for deviating from the list of Tesco-approved meat suppliers. “The breach of trust is simply too great,” said Tim Smith, the UK retailer’s technical director, in a statement. (The owner and founder of Silvercrest’s parent told the FT earlier this month it had been “let down” by its own suppliers.)

Humor aside, stakeholders do not appear to be materially shaken by this turn of events -- a supply chain quality control (operational) failure -- with respect to Tesco's reputational value.

The Steel City Re Reputational Value Metrics, explained in greater detail in the 2012 book, Reputation, Stock Price and You, show no difference in RVM volatility between historic and current periods. RVM is a non-financial measure of reputational value and is holding steady in the 70th percentile. The company's CRR, a measure of reputational ranking, is at the 26th percentile. Its economic returns are median, and its reputational forecast suggest slightly below median stability with directionality indicators being positive.

The data suggest that stakeholders, having already ranked the company at the lowest quartile, were less shocked by Tesco's discovery of horse meat than they were pleasantly surprised by the company's swift response. First, severe action against a supplier to punish it for its failure and second, a commitment to  test the DNA of meat going forward to mitigate future potential problems. These comprise textbook reputational value crisis management practices. [A textbook response, it should be noted, is not PR; but rather substantive operational fixes. Pass the hint to Boeing.]

For supply-chain watchers, note the references to "trust" and "being let down." Supply chains can not operate effectively absent trust nor can they operate only on the basis of trust. Tools that help companies verify that which is the basis for trust will become increasingly important. Stay tuned.

YUM! Brands: Toxic chicken

C. HUYGENS - Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Shares in YUM! Brands fell earlier this week, but the Steel City Re Reputational Value Metrics show that the damage was done some weeks ago (see spike in chart column 2, row 1). This sudden upwards movement in the company's Current RVM volatility was triggered by news reports that the chicken in the company's flagship product, KFC, was contaminated.  RVM, a non-financial measure of reputational value, is volatile. Spikes in volatility are often associated with subsequent sharp market value changes. The charts compare and contrast YUM! with McDonald's Corporation, a premier manager of supply chains described further in the book, Reputation, Stock Price and You.

Back to our toxic chickens. As the FT explains:

In November, Chinese media accused Su Hai Group, one of the chicken suppliers to KFC (Yum’s flagship brand in China with 3,700 outlets), of injecting antiviral drugs and growth hormones into poultry in ways that violated mainland food safety regulations. This was followed by a CCTV report a month later that accused another KFC supplier, Liuhe Group, of similar practices that helped accelerate the growth cycle of the chickens from 100 days to just 40 days. Shortly after the TV report aired, the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) said it found that eight of the 19 batches of chicken samples Yum sent to a testing laboratory in 2010 and 2011 contained overly-high levels of antibiotics.

Baxter: The long tail of supply chain woes

C. HUYGENS - Thursday, June 16, 2011
In early 2008, Baxter International (NYSE:BAX) began a series of product recalls involving the drug, Heparin, that was manufactured with ingredients sourced from a supplier in China. Yesterday, the first of the product liability litigation cases arising reached the verdict stage.

According the to the Chicago Tribune (9 June, Japsen), a Cook County Circuit Court jury Thursday awarded $625,000 to the estate of a man who his attorneys say was given a dosage of a blood thinner made by Baxter International Inc. that contained a contaminated ingredient found in the company's supply chain in China.

The verdict is the first from a case against Baxter and its supplier, Wisconsin-based Scientific Protein Laboratories, from hundreds of lawsuits filed against the Deerfield-based medical product giant. A mountain of litigation has been leveled against the companies after U.S. regulators determined in 2008 that Baxter's heparin was contaminated, from fake ingredients sourced in China.

The Wall Street Journal (9 June, Kell) quotes Baxter spokeswoman Deborah Spak as saying the company is taking responsibility for legitimate cases of harm related to the contamination seriously, adding that Baxter will "vigorously defend claims that are not consistent with the definition established by public health authorities." Baxter's therapies treat serious medical problems such as cancer, immune disorders and trauma. The company is coming off a challenging year due to economic weakness, costs pegged to the U.S. health-care overhaul and some product-quality and regulatory challenges.  It's stock price has appreciated around 50% over the trailing twelve months and shares rose an additional 0.3% to $59.05 in after-hours trading -- not the sort of economic performance associated with a company facing new challenges.

Turning to the reputation metrics from Steel City Re, Baxter is wrapping up the trailing twelve months ahead at the 88th percentile from a start at the 72nd. Its reputation metric volatility, exponentially weighted, is down to about 6%, its reputation velocity is on the upswing at 7% and its reputation vector is positive at 1%. All are signs of reputational recovery. Economically, it is outperforming the median of its peer group comprising 172 companies in the Pharmaceutical sector by a comfortable 17.82%

Finally, while the sector as a whole is demonstrating increased level of reputational volatility reaching around 36%, the Company's intangible asset fraction got a small boost and is now around 90%, slightly above that of the median of its peer group.

We conclude that as with Johnson & Johnson's supply chain issue of the early 1980's, Baxter took the hit early on (2008) and has since progressed with the expected long-term costs of this quality/safety issue already deeply embedded in the stock price and in reputation-related expectations.

BP: Oh no, not again

Nir Kossovsky - Monday, May 03, 2010
In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, “the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was 'Oh no, not again.' Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now.”

We can reasonably assume that similar thoughts raced through the minds of BP (NYSE:BP) executives on 20 April as the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, caught fire, and sank. And while we are probably equally clueless about the nature of the Company, as are stakeholders who own its reputation, of this we can be certain: it is sinking.

As illustrated in the series of Steel City Re Corporate Reputation Index charts below, BP and the other firms associated with this safety and environmental disaster are experiencing an acceleration of a steady reputational decline. And as noted in the book, Mission Intangible and more recently in an article in CFO magazine, these declines are indications and warnings of an increased risk of a reputational event.

Not that BP is unaware. The New York Times quotes BP CEO Tony Hayward on Friday as saying, “Reputationally, and in every other way, we will be judged by the quality, intensity, speed and efficacy of our response.”

BP has blamed the rig’s owner and operator, Transocean (NYSE:RIG), for the accident. Further investigation is now suggesting that a drilling subcontractor, Halliburton (NYSE:HAL), may have failed to execute a critical task that prevents gas and oil from escaping from the well.

The process is called ‘cementing’ and it is challenging. A 2007 study by the U.S. Minerals Management Service found that cementing was the single most-important factor in 18 of 39 well blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico over a 14-year period. More recently, Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) has been accused of performing a poor cement job in the case of a major blowout in the Timor Sea off Australia last August. An investigation is under way.

As a case study of risk and reputation management, this has almost all the main elements. Consider the following:

1. Iconic brand, BP, working through subcontractors - a key source of risk (we explore this topic further this Friday, see below)
2. History of failures in managing the processes of assuring safety - a reputation lacking resilience 
3. Marketing campaign built around sustainability laid to waste by a massive oil spill - lack of authenticity

The LA Times notes in a story on 1 May that experts were cautious about attributing blame, pending what are expected to be lengthy investigations by Congress and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Coast Guard.

Satisfy your intellectual curiosity!

If the above issues pique your interest, here are several things you can do right now:

1. Register free of charge for the next IAFS Mission Intangible Monthly Briefing set for Friday 7 May at 12h00 EDT. The conversation will feature Scott Childers from Walt Disney and Bob Rittereiser from Zhi Verden on “Process-driven reputation risk in supply chains”
2. Purchase the book, Mission: Intangible. Managing risk and reputation to create enterprise value, at the IAFS Store (or any online book retailer) 
3. Become a member of the Intangible Asset Finance Society.
4. Join our community on Linked-In.

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