Rowena Olegario is a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation. She serves as the Centre’s Research Coordinator and Case Study Editor. Rowena is a leading historian of business, specialising in the history of credit in the United States, and the evolution of ‘creditworthiness’ in countries around the world. She also examines the role of reputation in business organisations and business practices.
Rowena leads the academic mission of the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation, which she joined in 2009. The Centre facilitates multidisciplinary research collaborations among leading scholars of corporate reputation and develops robust research questions that have the potential to span disciplines. Its multidisciplinary approach reflects the dual nature of reputation as both a resource for corporations and a form of social evaluation. In addition to finance, strategy, organisational behaviour and marketing, the Centre strongly encourages the incorporation of methodologies and insights from political science, sociology, psychology, and history.
As a historian of business, Rowena’s research interest focuses on the intersection of market forces, institutional change, and culture. She has published academic books on the history of credit reporting and the branding practices of the giant consumer products firm, Procter & Gamble. In 2014 Rowena’s history of credit in the United States (provisionally titled The Nation that Credit Built) will be published by Harvard University Press. Rowena also serves on the editorial boards of the Business History Review and Enterprise and Society, leading academic journals of business history.
Further, Rowena initiated and edits the Centre’s collection of corporate reputation case studies. These case studies - which are powerful tools for exploring reputational challenges and formulating responses - examine how corporate reputations are created, sustained, destroyed, and rebuilt. The case studies have been taught in all of the Centre’s MBA and executive leadership programmes and used by instructors in other educational institutions in courses on corporate social responsibility, strategy, and marketing.
Rowena received her PhD in History from Harvard University and her B.A. in History from Yale University. She was Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee) and a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. While earning her PhD she was also a Research Associate at Harvard Business School.
Prior to entering academia, Rowena was a senior market analyst specialising in the retail industry at Coopers & Lybrand (now PriceWaterhouseCoopers) in New York. She also worked in publishing and public policy analysis in Washington, D.C.
Areas of expertise:
Rowena’s scholarly work examines the role of corporate reputation through history, and in particular, the relationship between reputation and regulation. She also pursues a separate but related strand of research, which investigates the history of credit and the institutional and cultural frameworks around credit reporting in different parts of the world. Her books include an exploration of the origins of credit reporting in nineteenth-century United States, and a history of the branding practices of one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, Procter & Gamble. She has recently been invited to give lectures to university audiences on the subject of her forthcoming book on the history of lending and borrowing in America.
Corporate Reputation and Branding
Rowena (with Dr Christopher McKenna, Reader in Business History and Strategy, University of Oxford) edited a special issue on corporate reputation for the Business History Review (Winter 2013). The special issue introduces corporate reputation as a lens through which scholars can interpret decisions made by firms over time and across countries - in relation to the media, as part of specific political regimes, and within networks of individuals and social groups.
Credit Institutions and Practices
Rowena's latest book is The Engine of Enterprise: Credit in America (2016, Harvard University Press). The book chronicles the nearly 300-year history of business and consumer credit in the United States, focusing on the institutional and cultural developments that have led to the credit structures, practices, and beliefs of the early 21st century. The book places the recent financial crisis within the context of Americans’ historical willingness to take risks with credit in order to achieve their personal, business, and political goals. It examines the tensions that resulted from the dual desire to prevent economic instability and ensure that sufficient credit was available to businesses and households.
Rowena regularly engages with businesses and government in her role as Case Study Editor of the Centre for Corporate Reputation. She has also contributed to the World Bank’s examination of the role of institutions in economic growth and been a consultant to media projects on the history of credit reporting.
Rowena initiated the Centre for Corporate Reputation’s case study collection. The collection explores how organisations build, sustain, destroy, and rebuild their reputations. All of the Centre’s case studies are written with the active collaboration of the subject organisations’ top executives. For example, at the invitation of the Italian oil major, Eni, Rowena travelled with Centre colleagues to the Republic of Congo to research Eni’s sustainability programmes. Rowena also visited Madagascar to write a case study of the biodiversity and community programmes of the mining conglomerate, Rio Tinto. These case studies and others are available free of charge to instructors at certified institutions of higher education and can be downloaded from the Centre's website.
Rowena was also one of three historians commissioned by Procter & Gamble (P & G) to help articulate the company’s values and experiences (its ‘DNA’) to a new generation of international employees and consumers. P&G is a creator and marketer of iconic consumer brands and is recognised as the birthplace of brand management. The resulting book, Rising Tide: Lessons from 165 Years of Brand Building at Procter & Gamble, was published by Harvard Business School Press. In addition to the more than 100,000 copies that P&G distributed to its employees worldwide, the book has been sold to practitioners around the world and translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Thai.
Rowena’s work on the history of credit reporting was recognised by the World Bank who invited her to participate in a series of conferences around the subject of Institutions and Markets. This was the eventual title of the Bank’s annual flagship publication, the World Development Report (WDR). The WDR drew on Olegario’s work relating to how credit reporting and credit information sharing could enhance markets and market participation. The World Bank’s focus on institutions, of which business credit reporting was an important but mostly invisible example, indicated the great strides institutional economics had made in enriching the insights of neoclassical economics in (for example) the problem of information asymmetry. In two conferences at the World Bank, Rowena analysed the potential contribution of credit reporting to market growth, and the forces that have historically militated against the sharing of financial information.
Further, Rowena has served as a consultant for a number of television and radio projects on the history of credit reporting. These include the programme They Made America, aired on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) station in the United States, in which she appeared as a commentator, and BackStory, aired on National Public Radio in the US.
Rowena strives to equip students with the skills necessary to sharpen their awareness of how business practices and institutions are shaped by cultural and historical contexts.
Prior to joining the School faculty, Rowena developed and taught courses in international and U.S. business history at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee) and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. While a Research Associate at Harvard Business School, she contributed to the development of a course exploring the business environments of the U.K., Germany, the U.S. and Japan. The course, The Creation of Modern Capitalism, was taught as a foundations course to all incoming students.
Rowena currently teaches:
Reputation and Leadership
This course is offered in two forms: as an elective in the MBA programme, and as a three-day intensive course to senior executives and managers in industry, professional services, non-profits, and government. The principal aim of the course is to provide students with an assessment of how reputations are created, sustained, destroyed and rebuilt. The course also equips students with an understanding of how senior management should consider reputation, and how this can become an effective tool in the formation of judgements that leaders are expected to make on a day-to-day basis. The sessions draw from a number of senior leaders in industry and the professions.
Beginning in summer 2013, Rowena will teach (along with Dr. Christopher McKenna) a course on international business history to EMBA students. The course provides students with a basic understanding of the business histories of Britain, Germany, the U.S. and Japan - the four countries that invented modern industrial capitalism. The course considers, too, the history and prospects of emerging business superpowers, China and India. Through case histories of several large enterprises, the course explores the evolution of distinct national business systems and cultures that help to propel countries to the forefront of economic development. Further, the course examines stages of the Industrial Revolution and the industries and technologies that typified and shaped each stage. The course touches on globalisation, corporate governance, and the challenges that face policy makers who are trying to build market institutions in developing and transitional economies.
Centre for Corporate Reputation
Saïd Business School
Park End Street