Dr. Charles J. Fombrun Awarded Lifetime Achievement in Reputation

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On October 2, 2018 Reputation Institute kicked off its annual Global Reputation Summit in Amsterdam. This member-exclusive event was made up of the Reputation Leaders Network — a knowledge-sharing, peer-to-peer network for senior executives working to advance the practice of Reputation Intelligence. 

In addition to workshops, client and expert presentations on topics like CEO Activism, Engaging Stakeholder Dialogues, Integrating Reputation as a KPI, RI Founder Dr. Charles J. Fombrun was awarded a Lifetime Achievement in Reputation.

Charles accepted this award in front of colleagues, peers, and clients at an event marking tremendous growth at Reputation Institute at a time when the global economy is increasingly reputation-focused.

“Reputation work has been the lifeblood of what I’ve done in the last 30 years, I think of reputation as a force that moves markets, whether it’s the stock market, or labor market, or product market.” – Charles Fombrun

This thoughtful speech was written and presented by Charles’ colleague Dr. Cees van Riel. It is a testament to the historical impact of corporate reputation and its growing importance for the future of business. 

Dear Charles, 

It was exactly 22 years ago today that we met at Stern Business School in New York. At the time, I had read a number of your articles, particularly your AMJ piece entitled “What is in a Name.”  In that article you had combined reputation data with media and financial data. Your fact-based conclusion was that a strong reputation is evoked by two key points: money spent on corporate messaging and the amount and nature of media coverage about the organization in question.

Serendipity brought us together, or I should say more modestly, enabled me to get to know you at an important crossroads in our careers. You were on the brink of finishing the last details of your Harvard Business Book on Reputation and I had just published Principles of Corporate Communication with Prentice Hall.  The aim of my visit was to persuade you to create a new academic journal together with me. The CORPORATE REPUTATION REVIEW became a reality already one year later.  This was launched at the same time as the annual Reputation Institute Conference that we organized between 1997 and 2014. 

Everybody knows you from the research you have done on reputation. However, as of the early eighties your research was focused around three interrelated topics: human resources, consultancy and, of course, reputation. 

After your bachelor study in physics, Wharton professor Noel Trichy inspired you to understand more about the political structure of organizations. This resulted in various academic articles and your first book called Strategic Human Resource Management, published in 1984.  In that year you moved from Wharton to Stern Business School where you remained until 2004. Many renowned professors at US business schools were fortunate to have you as their PhD coach. To mention a few:  Violina Rindova, Naomi Gardberg, and Michael Barnett.  At least five articles — co-authored with them — and all focusing on reputation, were the result of this investment.

Reputation became the key topic of interest in your research throughout the nineties. However, you did more. One of the most famous courses at Stern during your tenure was an elective course in how to build and manage a consultancy firm. This resulted in another book which you published in 2003 called The Advice Business. 

After you had left Stern, you took a sabbatical and bought an apartment in Paris. Our cooperation continued and resulted in the Fame & Fortune book that provided proof points about the financial impact of having a sound reputation – something you already had referred to in the AMJ article in 1990. The Fame & Fortune book became a best-seller that could be found at airport bookstalls. We traveled around the world to evangelize the reputation management religion. You actively promoted the idea at an early stage that fame is rooted in what you say. And that what you say has to be 100% embedded in what you do. That basic notion still is the core reason why companies embrace the necessity to safeguard their reputation. Happily enough, you convinced managers and many others that reputation management is not only a defensive strategy aimed at preventing a crisis. On the contrary, a positive reputation brings prosperity not only to an individual organization but also to society at large. The more highly reputed companies we have in society, the better it is for employees, investors, regulators and NGOs — and for society as a whole. 

In stimulating this core idea, you built the Reputation Institute. The Reputation Institute did not start with the aim of becoming a successful business with activities in 40 countries around the globe. The objective to start with this platform was much more modest and can be summarized as coming from two driving forces. First, the intention to build a new discipline with the help of both top academics in Business Schools and top practitioners. Second, the desire to have reputation data on a global scale that is academically valid and practically useful, inspiring academic research and helping practitioners to increase the performance of their firms. 

“Great things are never done by one person. They are done by a group of people” is the opening quote in the introduction of the latest version of your reputation book. That is no doubt the case. However, it is clear to me — and to all the people with whom you have collaborated over the past decades — that you are the key pioneer in developing initiatives that resulted in a new measurement instrument applied on a global scale, resulting in a database that consists of millions and millions of data revealing an important mechanism in the public discourse around companies. It was also you who started as early as the late nineties with an initiative to add media data to the perception data we were already gathering with RepTrak. It must be great for you to see that as of today the Reputation Institute is now mining both perception and media data to provide a more profound understanding about why companies have a high or a low reputation.  

Charles, this is just a short overview of all the contributions you have given to us in the academic world, in the business world, and of course at the Reputation Institute in creating a world vision around reputation management. Today, we would like to say publicly, “THANK YOU, CHARLES.” Thank you for your innovative ideas, perseverance, and occasional stubbornness. But above all for the world-class THOUGHT LEADERSHIP that you have shown around your favorite topic, REPUTATION. 

It is an honor and a privilege to present you this sculpture today as a symbol of recognition and appreciation for everything you have done in the last three decades through your thought leadership in reputation management. Congratulations, and thank you for everything.

Cees B.M. van Riel
Co-Founder Reputation Institute

If you'd like to learn more about Dr. Charles J. Fombrun and his research, we invite you to take a look at the recently republished 20th-Anniversary edition of his book Reputation: Realizing Value from the Corporate Image.

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