CEO reputation and corporate reputation

Joachim Schwalbach at the Humboldt University Berlin conducted the world's largest study on the reputation of CEOs and companies. A total of 184 companies and 224 CEOs of companies operating in Germany were ranked according to their reputation. The evaluation was based on a survey carried out amongst thousands of business leaders. The results provide exciting insights into which reputation factors shape the image of CEOs and companies and how important the influence of CEOs are for a company's reputation.

Key findings

  • The CEO's reputation has a much stronger impact on the company's reputation than expected - in a few cases up to 70%. In some corporations, there is a considerable discrepancy between the reputation of the CEO and the company.
  • In addition to the impact of the CEO, the company's reputation is strongly influenced by the factors customer orientation, quality of products and services as well as its capacity for innovation.
  • A CEO's reputation depends above all on their strategic competence, credibility and communication skills.
  • The branch also has a major impact: 50% of the top 10 companies came from the automotive industry. There is a close relationship between a company's reputation and its financial value, which highlights the importance of strategic reputation management.

Company reputation

  • Strong industry effect: 50% of the top 10 companies came from the automotive industry. However, there were also exceptions - such as Opel (rank 176) or GM (rank 181).
  • In 2013 Audi was knocked off the top stop by Porsche. BMW remained in second place, Volkswagen managed to move up two places to rank 5 and Daimler slipped down to 10th position.
  • The automotive industry and the consumer and industrial goods and IT & communications sectors tended to outperform the trade, finance, transport & tourism and media sectors.
  • Despite the financial crisis, insurance companies such as Munich Re (rank 13) and Allianz (rank 35) performed quite well. Banks, on the other hand, were hit very hard: Deutsche Bank ranked 122th and Commerzbank 182th.

CEO reputation

  • The ranking of a company's CEO showed parallels to their company's reputation. CEOs have a large to very large impact on the reputation of their company - in a few cases up to 70%.
  • At the top of the ranking in 2013 were CEOs of three automotive companies and three consumer goods manufacturers. On the other hand, four CEOs from the financial sector were at the bottom of the rankings.
  • The most respected CEO in 2013 was Martin Winterkorn at Volkswagen.
  • In contrast to the corporate reputation ranking, it is striking that CEOs of owner-dominated, private companies often have a better reputation than their companies. This applied in particular to Richard Oetker (rank 5 vs 8), Günther Fielmann (rank 6 vs 41), Mathias Döpfner of Axel Springer (rank 8 vs 99) and Erich Sixt (rank 12 vs 57).
  • If companies are managed by two CEOs, in most cases both performed similarly. For example, this was the case for SAP.

Reputation and corporate value

Numerous reputation studies have found a positive correlation between a company's reputation and its financial value. However, the causality has not yet been clearly proven in studies.

Two effects could explain the correlation:

  • (1) The investment effect: investing in reputation-building image campaigns and professional reputation management do not increase the value of the company in the short-term, but often only in the medium-term.
  • (2) The performance effect: a higher-than average company value has a positive influence on the future reputation, even in the short term.

Factors influencing reputation

  • For each survey seven aspects that have a significant influence on the overall reputation of a company and its CEO were evaluated. The choice of factors is the result of intensive literature studies.
  • The impact of reputation factors on the company and on the CEO varies considerably.

Which factors influence the company's reputation the most?

  • Customer orientation as well as product and service quality have the greatest influence.
  • These are followed by the factors innovations and financial stability and, to a somewhat lesser degree, management quality, sustainable management and employee orientation.

Which factors influence the CEO reputation the most?

  • Strategic competence and credibility are the most important factors for the CEO's reputation, followed by communication skills.
  • Assertiveness and role model function are ranked in the middle. The social commitment of a CEO and his abilities as a team player have almost no influence.

Scientific background

  • Definition: Reputation is the image of a person/organization perceived by outside stakeholders. It creates an intangible resource and a strategic competitive advantage.
  • A good reputation leads to economic advantages (i.e. higher prices, lower procurement costs) and higher loyalty. It increases the attractiveness for employees and reduces susceptibility to crises.
  • Reputation is relatively stable over time. However, company crises can lead to a considerable loss of reputation in the short term.
  • There is a close correlation between reputation and corporate value. Corporate communications should play a central role in reputation management since it is responsible for communicating with all stakeholders and therefore has a major influence on corporate reputation. However, this is often not yet the case.


  • For this study, the reputation of 184 companies and 224 CEOs were assessed by means of an online survey.
  • Three surveys were conducted: more than 7,000 managers were asked to assess the reputation of companies in 2011 and 2013. In addition, CEO reputation was assessed in 2013 by almost 2000 respondents.
  • All three surveys are the largest of their kind in the German-speaking world. The survey of the CEO reputation is methodologically unique and the largest in its scope worldwide.
  • Only first and second level executives from ten sectors were surveyed. Managers in the companies to be evaluated were not taken into account in order to achieve maximum independence.

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