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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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Tesco: Reputation cleanup in aisle 7

C. HUYGENS - Tuesday, November 04, 2014
The business case for cooking the books to increase volatility is tough to make. It is certainly hard on Tesco's reputation value.

Depressing the company's earnings purposefully to create a managerial crisis was noted earlier. It hurt investors, reflected terribly on management and the board and The Daily Mail was correctly most worried about "…the reputational damage, which could linger for years."

Two weeks ago, it was discovered that irregularities in cost and revenue recognition inflated the company's earnings by about $400 million over the past 3 years. Fraud, it has been shown time and again, is no way to enhance corporate reputation.

Horse meat posing as beef, in hindsight (so to speak), was a window into an underlying core problem at Tesco: bull posing as controls. What all this says for Tesco's governance and lack of reputational awareness is not repeatable in polite circles, so we'll let the absolutely awful reputational value metrics speak for themselves.

Reputation Statistics and Anecdotes

C. HUYGENS - Thursday, October 02, 2014
For professionals struggling to get their arms around the business case for reputation risk management, this posting from the Risk Management Monitor today provides the most recent statistics on the prevalence of reputation risk concerns at senior corporate levels, and timely comments on specific sources of reputation risk at Goldman Sachs, Lloyd's Banking Group, Tesco, and General Motors.

Read more.

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.

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