What’s a reputation worth?

This first appeared as a Comment in the 8 April issue of Flight International

It’s an oft-repeated truth that a good reputation can be destroyed in an instant. It is also true that a good reputation counts for much in business. For Finmeccanica, both of these truths loom very large right now.
The Italian industrial champion is under judicial fire from Rome and New Delhi, as investigators tear into allegations that its AgustaWestland division bribed its way to a lucrative contract to supply VVIP helicopters to India. Meanwhile, the company faces restrictions in bidding for other contracts in India.
However, after that particular legal trouble is ­resolved, it will take a long and determined effort by every employee to restore Finmeccanica’s reputation. There is nothing inherent to Finmeccanica or ­particularly Italian about this scandal. Doing business in one’s home market is difficult enough, but when big deals are more and more forged in countries where ­corruption is a way of life, the bribery trap has a very wide mouth.
So, Finmeccanica’s peers would do well to mumble “there-but-for-the-grace…” and examine closely their own standards of oversight – and the actual behaviour of their people, especially those connected to sales or purchasing. In the long run, in an industry increasingly reliant on a fluid matrix of partnerships and joint ventures in many countries and cultures, a reputation for honesty and reliability is invaluable.

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