The Reputation of CEOs Hits a Low


Business executives view CEOs negatively, but they still covet being the top dog in the corner office.  That’s the result of an intruging new survey released today by Weber Shandwick (full disclosure: I’m a SVP of digital/social media for Weber Shandwick in Cambridge, MA).

According to the survey:

  • 66 percent of executives believe the reputation of CEOs is largely negative
  • 14 percent give CEOs a positive rating
  • 20 percent are non-commital
  • 7 times more executives ranked CEOs “very negative” compared with “very positive”

Yet, a whopping 49 percent of the executives said they would be interesed in being a CEO in the future.  Why?  Because the idea of leading a company still resonates strongly with business executives, according to the survey.

Micho Spring, head of Weber Shandwick’s U.S. corporate practice said:

“The good news is that the next generation of executives is still eager to lead our largest companies. The unsettling news is that the public reputation of CEOs needs to be restored and trust in the chief executive office has to be rebuilt. CEOs can play a pivotal role in getting U.S. business back on track and headed in the right direction.”

The 151 business executives in the survey work at Fortune 1000 firms and were interviewed by telephone between April and May 2009 by KRC Research.  The executives thought it would take nearly four years – sometime in 2013 for the public to final  begin to warm toward CEOs.  The executives were also asked how CEOs can begin to rebuild their reputations – which have taken a beating during the global economic downturn.

Interestingly, 36 percent said CEOs should be more front and center with traditional and web-based media and 12 percent thought CEOs should start using social networking tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to communicate better with their constituent groups.

Other suggestions included:

  • 90 percent said CEOs should publicly take responsibility when their companies experience a crisis
  • 83 percent said CEOs should tie their compensation directly to company performance
  • 68 percent said CEOs should conduct more face-to-face meetings with employees
  • 54 percent said  CEOs should publicly speak out for themselves and their companies
  • 52 percent said CEOs should be more transparent

Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategiest said:

“Clearly, the best remedy for restoring CEO credibility is accountability. Given the past 12 to 18 months of economic turmoil, it is no surprise that CEO reputations have taken a beating.  Now is the time to show the next generation of leadership that leadership credibility can be rebuilt and that CEOs have listened attentively to public criticism. Communications, solutions and transparency should be high on all CEOs’ agendas.”

More details on the survey can be found here.

What are you thoughts about CEOs (even your own CEO)?  Why do you think CEOs are viewed so negatively?  What suggestions do have to strengthen the reputation of CEOs?

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