Case studies

Our case studies analyse how organisations deal with many different kinds of reputational challenges. With the help of first-hand accounts from those closely involved in the narratives, these cases provide a rich forum for discussion and exploration in both our MBA elective and on our executive education programmes. They are available free of charge, some with teaching notes. Contact the Centre for Corporate Reputation for more details. 


Creating reputation

Moelis – the making of an investment bank

Ken Moelis left his job as president of UBS AG's investment bank in July 2007. He decided to set up his own firm - one that would build long-term relationships with clients and look after their interests. Investment banking is an intensely competitive business. How could Ken build the reputation of his start-up to compete with bulge bracket firms like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Barclays and his own former employer, UBS? The case examines the changes that have occurred in investment banking, especially the conflicts of interest that now exist between the trading and investment banking activities of the bulge bracket firms. 

Building the reputation of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts

The establishment of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) in 2004 was designed to make the emirate a more appealing venue for international businesses to set up offices, with fewer restrictions on ownership, and tax breaks for those located within its boundaries. But while firms were happy to conduct business within Dubai, some were reluctant to commit to basing themselves there and being subject to an unfamilar local legal system with an uncertain reputation. The answer for Dubai was the establishment of DIFC Courts: common law courts - the familiar system for international business - operating within Dubai's own civil law jurisdiction. The case follows the ways that DIFC Courts established confidence among different stakeholders to make this possible. 

The history of Berry Bros. & Rudd 

The oldest wine and spirit merchants in Britain, which was established in St James's Street, London, has evolved greatly since its beginning as a grocery emporium founded by the Widow Bourne in 1698. Benefiting from the royal neighbourhood where it launched, building on social networks as well as buying expertise, it has become a global business, weathering wars, punitive tariffs and even Prohibition to create a widely respected international brand.

This case study charts its story into the 20th century, and is the first of a series being produced in partnership with the Global History of Capitalism project.


People's Energy - a crowdfunded utility

When David Pike and Karin Sode decided to launch an energy utility, they were both new to the sector. They were motivated by a sense of unfairness to customers from the 'big six' utilities, and the search for a purposeful pro-social business idea. They decided on a unique model: their set-up costs would come from crowdfunding, their power would be from sustainable sources, they would prioritise transparency and person-to-person values in their customer service and, most striking of all, they promised to return 75 per cent of the profits to their customers. In a very challenging business environment, where numerous other small competitors had  had to close, how did People's Energy build the credibility to persuade customers and the regulator that it was viable, what made its business model more resilient than those of some of its competitors, and how did it have to evolve to survive significant headwinds without losing sight of its initial purpose?

The 'A1' reputation of the Lloyd’s Register of Shipping

Lloyd's Register was the first service of its kind and laid the foundation for the whole classification industry. The rating system encouraged higher standards and provided reassurance to insurers, vital for the growth of trade. However, an 'A1 at Lloyd’s' was only ever worth as much as the Lloyd name. The Register needed a reputation for objectivity and reliability. With it, Lloyd’s would shape and standardise the shipping industry in the United Kingdom and the world.

Produced in partnership with the Global history of capitalism project. 

Protecting reputation

Eni vs Report: a live social media campaign against a TV investigation

When Report, Italy's leading investigative current affairs programme, invited energy company Eni to participate in a programme that was going to be critical about its operations, Eni decided instead to launch its own social media counter-offensive live during the broadcast. It was hailed in the Italian media as a game-changer, 'the battle for the second screen', and was soon copied by a number of corporations in Italy, notably Coca-Cola. This case study examines why Eni chose this course of action and explores the impact of the events of that evening on the various audiences, and the implications for corporations and media.

Rebuilding stigmatised reputation


Volkswagen started out in late-1930s Germany as a Nazi-funded prestige project. Adolf Hitler took a personal interest in the early development of the Beetle, seeing it as the vehicle that would motorise the Third Reich and displace Ford’s Model T as the 'people’s car.' Burdened with one of the worst origin stories imaginable, Volkswagen needed to put distance between itself and Nazi Germany in the post-war period. To achieve this, it refocused its factory towards delivering the Volkswagen Beetle: a cheap, reliable product that it hoped would appeal to domestic and export markets alike. The iconic car came to be embraced by diverse communities from around the world over the following decades, transforming the German carmaker globally by the 1980s.

Produced in partnership with the Global history of capitalism project.

Reputation and governance

The Market Basket boycott

When the board of New England supermarket chain Market Basket sacked its CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, it triggered an extraordinary boycott on his behalf - by suppliers, employees and customers - that became a national news story. This case study, by two authors who observed and experienced the boycott first hand, captures how the network of relationships fostered by the business and its CEO  created a force powerful enough to overcome the will of the majority shareholders. 

Reputation and heritage

adidas – rediscovering the source of its success

After decades as the world's leading sports shoe brand, adidas had lost its way. The secret to its renaissance lay in the now-neglected principles that its founder had laid out and which were the basis for the esteem in which the brand was held by all its stakeholders. What was it in the past of adidas that provided it with such strong reputational capital, and how did the company manage to channel it successfully?  

Reputation and purpose

Intesa Sanpaolo and the Progetto Cultura - a bank's core commitment to culture and heritage

When Intesa Sanpaolo, the Italian banking group, unveiled its new three-year business plan in January 2018, among the more conventional references to de-risking, cost reduction, revenue growth and new business opportunities, it had some notably less predictable inclusions. Conspicuous among them was a new commitment to 'set up a specialised unit focused on enhancement and proactive management of art, culture and historical heritage'. This was one of a number of initiatives that would underpin its aspiration to become, by its own assessment, 'the first Impact Bank worldwide', including new initiatives for assisting the poor and homeless, and a commitment to funding circular economy initiatives. The initiatives were reinforced by the bank’s annual Social Day, the first of which was in  2019, where the CEO, Carlo Messina, presented Intesa Sanpaolo’s pro-social impact 'pillars' to colleagues, partner organisations, representatives of government and the press.

The cultural element of that new aspiration was encapsulated in the Progetto Cultura – literally 'culture project' ­– an initiative launched in 2011 which was now to be elevated to a key plank in Intesa Sanpaolo’s impact agenda. Typically for a commercial organisation, such activities would usually take the form of the sponsorship of institutions and events. Intesa Sanpaolo had exceeded that level of undertaking already, for example with the creation of three museums to accommodate a variety of works of art in the bank’s collection. What were the motivations for and implications of now putting such an intensified focus on its current and future commitment to supporting cultural initiatives?

Reputation and reorganisation

The transformation of the Vatican museums

The Vatican museums are one of the world’s most popular and iconic cultural attractions. In 2013 they received 5,459,000 visitors – the fifth most visited such institution in the world. Under pressure from such numbers, in 2007 the museums faced a number of challenges: improving the visitor experience, reducing unauthorised access and guiding, halting the deterioration of the artworks, and addressing staff dissatisfaction. How could staff be persuaded that change was possible and then be mobilised to drive it forward? How could those outside the organisation be persuaded to engage in new partnerships that could change perceptions and drive progress?

Reputation and restructuring

Arcandor – doomed to fail?

At the end of 2004, the German retail conglomerate Arcandor, then known as KarstadtQuelle, was on the verge of bankruptcy. Thomas Middelhoff, the charismatic and controversial ex-CEO of the media firm Bertelsmann, was brought in to turn the company around. By 2007, Arcandor’s share price had shown signs of recovery and the company appeared on the way to better times. But in the summer of 2009, Arcandor filed for bankruptcy. What went wrong? Could anything have saved the company? This case considers the cultural, economic, managerial, strategic and reputational factors that affected Arcandor’s performance.

British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) – Case A: containing a crisis

In September 1999, the management team at British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) was stunned to learn that a story was about to appear in the Independent newspaper alleging that employees had falsified data concerning BNFL’s mixed oxide (MOX) fuel pellets - a serious breach of quality protocols that may have compromised the integrity of the nuclear fuel. Even worse, a shipment of these pellets was at that moment headed for BNFL’s customers in Japan. A new group CEO, Norman Askew, was appointed to deal with the crisis. How could he reassure the company’s international customers, the media, regulators, employees and  the British government that the management was able to contain the crisis? And how would the crisis affect the government’s long-term goal of privatising BNFL?

British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) – Case B: breakup

In July 2003, the UK government began a strategic review of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL). One month before the review began the government appointed a new CEO, Mike Parker. Parker became aware that there was a fundamental tension between the government and BNFL’s board. Much of the discussion on the government’s side revolved around breaking up the company and selling its assets; BNFL’s board believed the objective was to privatise the company in order to ensure its expansion and the growth of the UK’s nuclear industry (see BNFL Case A). After a strategic review it mandated a radical restructuring, including a strategy for breaking up the company. Parker faced a number of reputational challenges: doubts about management competence,  and managing the new agenda with the company's internal stakeholders.

Reputation and scandal

Gossip, corporate reputation, and the 1905 life insurance scandal in New York

During the 19th century, the corporate reputation of life insurers went largely unchecked by government. While the newly founded state insurance departments began to enforce reporting requirement laws, they lacked the resources to regulate the insurance giants. It was down to the insurers themselves to guard their reputation and to avoid the mistakes of their British counterparts, who had been embroiled in gambling scandals. Men in the American life insurance business were to be responsible and upstanding citizens, no mean feat in the scandal-rife world of Gilded Age New York. In 1905, James Hazen Hyde was first vice president of the Equitable Life Assurance Society and set to assume the presidency the following year on his 30th birthday. Two weeks after a lavish ball hosted by Hyde, the tide turned. What had seemed impressive now appeared excessive. Most surprisingly of all, the catalyst for the sudden change came from within the Equitable itself.

Produced in partnership with the Global history of capitalism project.

Reputation and wrongdoing

Parmalat –  Europe's biggest corporate bankruptcy

Parmalat, the Italian dairy and food conglomerate, was declared bankrupt in 2003 after a multi-billion-euro hole was discovered in its accounts. The company's debts amounted to around €14.1 billion. Its founder, Calisto Tanzi - previously one of Italy's most respected businessmen, with a reputation for high moral standards and philanthropy  - personally orchestrated a vast global fraud and was jailed for 18 years. Drawing on the prosecutor's analysis of the company's dealings, and considering the network of personal and professional relationships that fostered the  criminal conspiracy, we examine why the threat of losing reputation was not enough to prevent a disastrous series of decisions, and how key indicators signalled the true nature of the company before the truth was revealed. 

Mabey & Johnson – the UK's first overseas bribery prosecution

Mabey & Johnson (M&J) was an entrepreneurial British engineering company. Its cost-effective bridging solutions were used all over the world in some of the most challenging international territories. Its products were widely respected, and its operations were supported by the likes of the World Bank. Things changed with the introduction of new anti-corruption legislation: incentive payments disguised as commissions were now off-limits. When the M&J board attempted to put in the controls to prevent bad practice, the move backfired dramatically. Faced with counter-claims of endemic corruption, the company took the decision to self-report to the authorities. In the event, the resulting Serious Fraud Office prosecution led to the near destruction of the business. But what options were open to the company's bosses?

Sustaining reputation

Intesa Sanpaolo and the circular economy

Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy's largest bank, has long had a reputation for sustainable investment. However, in its 2018-2021 business plan, it made a core commitment to investing in the circular economy, with both the launch of a 'plafond' (credit facility) of up to five billion euros, and the launch of an investment fund. The credibility of the initiative was boosted by its partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a leading campaigner for the circular economy. Where had this strategic initiative come from, and how did the bank leverage its existing reputation without damaging it, in the pursuit of such an unusual commitment?  

QMM/Rio Tinto in Madagascar. Case A: protecting the island's biodiversity

QMM, a subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto, began construction of an ilmenite mine in Madagascar in 2006. The location of the mine made it one of the most sensitive projects that Rio Tinto had ever attempted. Madagascar is one of the world's biodiversity hotspots, with a very rich collection of species that exist nowhere else in the world. The area where the ore deposits were identified happened to be in one of the island nation's most ecologically diverse regions. Not surprisingly, NGOs and the international media raised objections to the project. The case outlines how QMM's environmental and conservation team demonstrated to sceptical outside observers that the company's actions would contribute economic benefits while leaving no lasting environmental and social harm.

QMM/Rio Tinto in Madagascar. Case B: engaging with local communities

Bringing a capital-intensive mining project to an impoverished country like Madagascar had significant reputational implications for QMM and its parent, Rio Tinto. 'Geographical isolation had left the poverty-stricken Anosy region, the mine’s proposed site, with very few job opportunities and a degraded infrastructure. When QMM first began exploring the area’s potential, it focused on biodiversity (see Case A).  Even then, the company realised that engaging with communities was an important part of any sustainability programme. The case explores how QMM responded to  local residents’ escalating expectations.

Eni – a 'guest' oil business in the Republic of Congo 

The integrated energy company Eni is Italy’s largest industrial firm and one of the largest oil companies in the world. It has substantial operations in a number of developing countries and has the largest presence of any international oil company, both in the Republic of Congo and throughout  Africa. Eni’s strong internal culture, based on the values and philosophy of its first president, Enrico Mattei, has long guided its approach to working with developing countries: 'It’s your oil; we are guests'. This case examines how Eni’s corporate values shaped its sustainability programmes in the Republic of Congo and elsewhere. The case also considers the reputational opportunities and threats inherent in these activities.

Nestlé and the history of infant formula

Medical and public recriminations against the infant formula industry are as old as the formula industry itself. Part of Nestlé’s success in infant nutrition for almost a century, however, has been the firm’s approach to pacifying and managing these criticisms. This case examines the ebb and flow of Nestlé’s reputation in infant health and nutrition from the early days of infant formula, through the difficult boycott years, to the present-day reputational challenges Nestlé faces as it expands into the vast infant formula market in China.

Produced in partnership with the Global history of capitalism project.