If you’re Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citibank, the answer is yes. Last year, Pandit vowed he’d take no salary until the bank became profitable. So he didn’t. But Citibank is now back in the black, which is why this past week, Citibank’s board announced that they’d reinstate a salary for Pandit.
Of course, Pandit is hardly the only A-list CEO working for a single George Washington. Apple’s Steve Jobs does. So does Google’s Sergey Brin, Yahoo’s Jerry Yang, and AIG’s Edward Liddy. In fact, it may not be much of an overstatement to claim that working for a dollar might be today’s most potent form of social prestige. But does it improve a CEO’s reputation?
CEO pay is down substantially these past few years for big companies, and special perks have dwindled, too. Yet mistrust of business leaders still runs high. As of March, a Gartner report listed “Rebuilding Trust” as the number 2 issue on the plates of CEOs (behind finishing restructuring programs). And a Chicago Alderman recently made headlines by claiming that Walmart’s CEO made more in one hour than his employees made in a year.
Another big news story this week—Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the City of Newark’s school system—speaks to this issue. Zuckerberg’s company has had its PR snafus, and a film is about to be released casting Zuckerberg personally in a poor light. Will a donation solve the problem? Does rampant speculation about Zuckerberg’s motives cancel out any potentially positive PR value?
There’s a deeper issue at play. In the wake of the financial crisis, lingering unemployment, widespread popular anger and a looming crisis in public finances, the question is how to rebuild trust—in people, institutions, our country, and capitalism itself—once it has been broken.
What about Corporate Social Responsibility generally? Does it work? And given how intangible reputation and trust are as concepts, is it ever possible to know for sure if it works?
At least one expert has recently brought Corporate Social Responsibility into question. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far especially given studies that show consumers quite willing to pay for corporate social responsibility. But consider this: Bill Gates’ foundation has been giving away billions for some time now, yet pundits are still asking if he’s “climbed out of the ‘evil’ penalty box” yet. Clearly important questions remain that require more study and analysis.
Couples rebound all the time from situations of marital infidelity, so we can speculate that rebuilding trust in business and politics is possible, too. As one academic study has shown, it is possible to re-build trust, so long as “individuals observe a consistent series of trustworthy actions.”
This is where public relations professionals can make a mark. Identify one area where your organization, or one you work with, is or can demonstrate consistent (and credible) trustworthy actions. Can it become a rallying point, a mantra for the organization?
How can companies today best re-build trust among stakeholders, and how can governments best “turn the tide of skepticism”? Which tactics work, and which don’t? We look forward to a rousing, informative, and timely discussion.