Reputation and Profits: The "Good Corporate Citizenship" Question

In the world of Buzzword Bingo or your standard corporate blah-blah-blah, one of the favorite expressions that marketing and PR folks like to use for their clients - especially their Big Boy clients - is that they're "good corporate citizens."

Just so you know how 'true' that is, Enron was one. Their marketing people said so.

It's an interesting question, though. What, exactly, is "good corporate citizenship"? What do you have to do to be a "good corporate citizen"? And why should you bother?

The reason why you - and I mean you, personally - should bother is because it's all about your reputation. Your image in the larger society in which you operate - whether you're the local dry cleaner or a global player - is greatly impacted by how you're perceived to treat the area and people in which your organization exists.

But, you say, we're a Big Boy multi-national? We're everyplace. How are we supposed to really do the "good corporate citizen" thing...and why should we?

Take a moment and think about Jack Welch, the so-called "legendary" former CEO of General Electric.

Did he accomplish amazing things in his company? Yes. Did he create shareholder value that exceeded anyone's dreams? Yes.

Did he, by fighting regulators for over 10 years after it was found that GE was polluting the Hudson River with the cancer causing agents, PCBs, not only put the population of the area but his company and its reputation at risk...as well as taint his own reputation? Yes to that, too.

So much for good corporate citizenship and the renowned Mr. Welch. Even now, over a decade later, when Jack Welch puts himself forward, someone remembers the Hudson and what he didn't do.

It's a good thing for GE that Mr. Welch's successor, Jeff Immelt, understood and acted upon the good image and good business of being a "good corporate citizen" - because he turned around the hit that GE's reputation took, both locally and globally. His smart decisions and 'green' strategy, put them back on track to be a trusted partner and corporate provider.

But it doesn't take a giant effort like GE's to make the "good corporate citizen" difference. You achieve just as big - if not bigger - gains by simply showing your support in your local area.

And for that, let's look at Larry Ellison, yet another "legendary" CEO - who founded and runs Oracle.

Ellison's reputation is as a near wild man - and he seems to thrive on it.

That's okay, because his company does things like support the local community where they're headquartered by being a major sponsor of a money-raising effort to ensure that music continues to be taught in the schools.

From the locals' perspective, that makes Oracle a good company. What that turns into, for all the IT managers, business executives and SMB owners whose kids go to those schools, is that Oracle becomes a preferred provider.

What does this mean for you?

It means it's time to start taking your role as a "good corporate citizen" seriously. It's time to go beyond using the pretty words and put your money where your marketing mouthpieces are saying you are.

It doesn't take a lot - but it does take a decision. Your decision.

What do you want your and your company's legacy to be? How do you want to be seen now and in the future?

More importantly, how do you want to use your good corporate citizenship - your investment in the betterment of society through business - to make a difference in people's lives...and your company's profits...now?

It's time to do something different. Business isn't only about profits. In fact, in your company and on the larger scale, profits are simply there as fuel for growth. Yours and society's.

Be a good corporate citizen by doing real things that make a difference. A real difference.

That's what you'll be remembered for - even as everyone who sees what you're doing make their decision to buy what you have to offer now.