Business Reputation – A Tenuous Risk!

People’s reputation, an institution’s reputation, or a business’s reputation…can be very a very valuable (intangible) asset that produces-delivers many competitive advantages (also, an intangible asset).

  • But, how are either rationalized by (current, sought, future) consumers? And, how can – is a businesses reputation (image, goodwill, etc.) indeterminately sustainable?
  • And, if a businesses reputation is no longer indeterminately sustainable, why has it become more tenuous and at risk?

‘Nothing surprises me anymore’is a phrase often uttered with a tone of cynicism or contemptuousness,  especially regarding when a particularly adverse – senseless event or act occurs, originating in human behaviors and born of arrogance, righteousness, religiosity, disregard for consequences, personal hatred, or mere obliviousness or disdain for the rule of law.

Today, when I hear someone utter…‘nothing surprises me anymore’ I frequently sense ‘a human act’ is being relegated, without regard to how despicable, disgraceful, appalling, or conscious shocking the act or behavior is, to the mundane, i.e., I suspected something like this would occur again, irrespective of…

  • its willfulness, disregard for life, premeditation, or hateful-sadistic nature, or
  • whether the act(s) were perpetrated during war, by war lords, or dictators, under the guise of pursuing peace, religiosity, or some other ism.

Unfortunately, and with more consistency, the disturbing acts – behaviors that occur without being a surprise are indeed…within our realm – repertoire of thought.  As ridiculous as that may sound to some, the individual(s) advocating, enabling, and/or perpetrating  such acts, I suspect, assume little or no ownership or concern for what occurs as a consequence of their speech or action advocacy.

Ironically, one’s  advocacy for action…irrespective of its shamefulness, misinterpretation, or fragility, may advance – elevate their reputation which, in turn, can manifest as ‘personalized rationalization’ to engage in more of the same.

Similarly, individuals serving in private sector (corporate) decision-making capacities…in ‘rule of law’ countries, ala the U.S., whose leadership and authority have presumably undergone some semblance of vetting, today, some questions – issues need be raised…

  • do they recognize circumstances when they (may) have over-stepped the parameters of ‘good vs. evil’ relative to their position of leadership, perhaps not once, but, consistently over a period of time? 
  • and, their reputation, upon which their position and status evolve, may be irreparably reversed. 

Now this still amazes me, on many levels!

In one instance, I am referring to, the utterly despicable, repugnant, and repulsive actions of…the Larry Nassar’s, the former team physician to USA Women Gymnastics and Michigan State University Women Gymnastics, and now convicted felon.  Who knew of his betrayals of trust and ethics, 5, 10, 15 years ago and chose to remain silent and ignorant.

Was there not anything learned by academe…from the human tragedies that occurred, at his hands, over a period of decades, perpetrated by the Larry Sandusky’s and countless others.  After all, we’re talking about irrepressible wrongs perpetrated on young humans that perhaps scale substantially worse than manipulating mileage specs on Volkswagen automobile diesel engines.

It is now understood, as a matter of investigative record…by Michigan State University police and MSU administration, that Nassar was initially accused of sexual molesting-assaulting young women gymnasts, as early as 1997. It is now mid-January 2018, Nassar’s trial is over, he has finally been convicted, and is stowed away in prison for the remainder of his life. The presiding (Michigan state court) judge correctly permitted, in accordance with existing law, 160+ women victims who endured Nassar’s vileness to address him directly in open court if they wish.

Its clear, the statement, nothing surprises me anymorehas no relevance here.  Having listened to – viewed a few of these women, most now in their early to mid-20’s, articulate their physiological and emotional harm is indeed bolting.

Sure, we now hear reports of actual resignations and potential resignations…as well we should. At minimum, that’s a start. But, what about the no doubt dozens of decision makers, administrators, and counselors along the long and troubling path of Nassar, i.e., MSU officials, women gymnastics oversight bodies, and employees at ‘the ranch’ who did know, claim ignorance, or should have known, ala ‘ex post facto rationales’, yet, for reasons that exceed my imagination, elected to not do something, whatever was necessary, to try to make it stop!

As for me, I un-ashamedly possess operational familiarity with organization – corporation reputation risk (conceptually and practically)…and, through my variously experienced lens, the timeless adage, ‘where there is smoke, there is usually some fire’ is quite apropos in these and countless other instances.  One, not atypical problem is, ‘the smoke, in this instance, has been bellowing for decades’.  My frequent starting point, upon which to, at least commence framing any follow-up examination and analysis bears upon…

  • belated action to arrest the tenure of any bad seeds, bad deeds, and bad decisions.
  • that all-to-frequently, permit the prolongation of the ‘original sin and the original sinner’, and
  • when, where, how, and to whom some responsibility-accountability lies.

I am (professionally, personally) hard-pressed to characterize…the repeated felonious actions which materialize on this scale and which directly and adversely affect humans, as merely constituting reputation risks to MSU, its administrators, and the various internal – external entities with oversight-governance responsibilities for collegiate athletics.

To do so, in the personage of Larry Nassar…may moderate, if not convey a sense of dismissiveness for the lifetime feelings of the 160+ women gymnasts who will likely repeatedly re-visit (emotionally, intellectually) the acts and dominance perpetrated against them by Nassar.

At this point in my professional thinking…perplexity about these decade long series of actions is far from being even a remotely sufficient descriptor to explain the inevitable, that is, why so many presumably rational and intelligent individuals, who no doubt have daughters and granddaughters of their own, and possess a high interest and respect for collegiate gymnastics and other sports, were unable to conceive of and execute myriad ways (avenues, strategies, or even schemes) to stop Nassar from consistently and repeatedly perpetrate damage upon the multitudes of young women assigned to his care.

Aside, for the moment, the damage Nassar perpetrated on the young women gymnasts…professionally and personally, one must assume, numerous MSU officials and/or employees either had knowledge, should have had knowledge, or, once it became known to them, at some point during Nassar’s multi-year period of sexual assaults, they elected not to act, not to report, and not to follow up.

To those in MSU leadership, authority, and decision-making positions…who, for various obvious rationales, elected to seeks paths of (plausible) deniability or otherwise shelter themselves and their professional identity, by, among other things, opting to accept (perhaps knowingly) injudicious counsel which, in an unknown, but likely key instances, prolonged the public surfacing of Nassar’s misdeeds and mitigate their complicity, which preferably, the jury is still out on the issue of administration accountability.

There can, nor should there be…any further clichés to describe what Nassar did and the decades of circumstances surrounding his behavior. It is what it is, and numerous individuals reputations should and must be put at legally risk now.  Michigan State University, not unlike Penn State University, will no doubt have their day in not just in courts of law, but also, courts of public opinion.

It is worth noting, the concept and application of reputation…be it personal or organizational, is generally comprised of numerous intertwined and converged (human) intangible assets, i.e., intellectual, structural, and relationship capital.  It is a globally universal economic fact that today, 80+% of most organization’s value, sources of revenue, sustainability, competitiveness, and stability lie in – evolve directly from these and myriad other intangible assets!

The adverse materialization of reputation risk should not…traverse – pivot solely to the MSU’s and PSU’s, but surely to every decision maker – overseer who falls short of, for whatever reason, of collegiate athletes  expectations, and their obligations to consistently ‘do the right thing’, irrespective of whether or how it may affect their employment contract.  Doing the right thing is a highly personalized intangible asset!

Michael D. Moberly January 24, 2018 St. Louis [email protected]  ‘The Business intangible Asset Blog’ since May 2006 ‘where one’s attention span, intangible assets, and solutions converge’!

Readers are invited to explore other blog posts, papers, and books I have published at


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