Consumers Want To Do Business With Companies They Can Trust

Published on February 18, 2010

Trust in corporate leaders is becoming vitally important as consumers are forced to be more frugal, given the still-recovering economy.

The want for trust has also been fueled by several high-profile corporate “challenges,” such as the bankruptcy filings by such juggernauts as General Motors and Lehman Brothers, said John Edward Yoshimura, ’87, chief operating officer of global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

Yoshimura said he believed the challenges were caused by “sometimes a lack of foresight and peripheral vision of what’s going on around them outside of their organizations. And in some cases, I think the word that was used was ‘hubris’ in these organizations: They thought that they were invincible, what they were doing was leading edge, and that they couldn’t fail, or they wouldn’t be allowed to fail.

“These companies were riding high but now have some challenges,” Yoshimura continued. “This is a very important thing from a corporate perspective and also from an individual perspective. Once you have a tarnished reputation, it is extremely difficult to turn that around, both on the corporate level and the individual level. Once that trust is gone, rebuilding that is an extremely difficult thing to do.”

Yoshimura spoke in Hyde Park February 18 at an event sponsored by the student-led Chicago Asia Pacific Group, outlining several recent surveys that highlighted how trust factors into corporations. In one, the Edelman Trust Barometer, more consumers ranked having trust in senior leadership as more important than a company offering high-quality products or services (95 percent to 91 percent, respectively).

“People are saying, ‘I want to do business with companies I can trust or companies that have senior leadership that I can trust,’” Yoshimura said. “Trust in organizations is a critically important factor for companies, especially in the global market.”

Another study focused on the disconnect of what MBA students valued as important compared to what corporate recruiters valued as important. Students in the Graduate Management Admissions Council study said they valued technical skills, such as managing strategy and innovation or having knowledge of general business functions, as more important than softer skills, such as having interpersonal skills or knowledge of human behavior, Yoshimura said.

Corporate recruiters, on the other hand, reported written and oral communication skills as the most important factor for new hires, followed by having initiative, professionalism, and integrity. Having core business skills was only important to 67 percent of recruiters, Yoshimura said.

“Ultimately what recruiters are looking for -- and what companies are looking for -- to drive success are the softer skills,” he said.

Yoshimura also said the economic recovery will be driven by companies simplifying and specializing. General Motors, for example, sold off or phased out a number of its 10 specialized brands to focus on its core business.

Likewise, companies like Proctor & Gamble are streamlining their brands to be, in the words of their CEO, “Sesame Street-simple,” Yoshimura said.

MBAs, especially those who want to go into consulting, should also consider specializing, Yoshimura said, as companies are becoming more frugal with their consulting budgets. “There is much more rigor around ‘Who is on the team?’ and ‘What experience do they have in my area?’ Companies are demanding that of their consultants,” Yoshimura said. “There is the expectation that you bring something to the table other than being a smart problem solver.”Alejandro Solis, a first-year student in the Full-Time MBA Program, said he walked away from the presentation with motivation to focus on building his strengths.

“People should work on what they know and not go into other sectors,” Solis said. “It’s all about connecting the dots of your past and where you are going. You are using your MBA to make that transition and not just use it to be a generalist. Be laser-focused on what you are good at.”

—Patrick Ferrell