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 more details.
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 tandem with the Global History of Capitalism project at Oxford University's Faculty of History.
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?
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.
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.
Reputation and reconnection
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 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 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 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?