NZ’s Most Reputable Organisation: Beca Group

New Zealand’s globally successful engineering consultancy, Beca Group, is NZ Management’s 2011 Most Reputable Organisation (MRO). It climbed two places on its 2010 ranking to edge Air New Zealand out of the top slot.
Beca’s ascendancy is, it seems, built as much on its reputation for having strong ethical and social values as on its outstanding technical, financial and service performance. “Beca has exceptional values. It successfully balances its global corporate size whilst retaining the New Zealand family culture that is large part of their success,” said one MRO survey respondent. “It melds clear profit motive and effective business operation with strong social values,” said another.
So despite tough economic times, business and other organisational leaders accept that building shareholder value should go hand-in-hand with an ethical and values-based approach to doing business.
NZ Management’s MRO survey identifies reputable organisations in four categories: private sector companies, state-owned enterprises, government departments and not-for-profit organisations. It is conducted for NZ Management by international consultancy Hay Group, which has for many years helped America’s Fortune magazine to identify what its publisher calls The World’s Most Admired Companies. Hay also researches Australia’s Most Respected Companies List for Australian Financial Review’s Boss magazine.
Hay Group’s New Zealand chief executive Ian MacRae says this year’s survey reiterates his consultancy’s belief that more organisations are focusing on reputation building strategies and making greater effort to understand what goes in to building reputation.
“A good financial performance is no doubt critical to every enterprise. But to achieve that performance organisations have to have everyone – shareholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate – accepting and supportive of the way in which those profits are earned.”
Beca was voted this year’s Most Reputable Company and the Most Reputable Organisation over all. Christchurch-based Solid Energy moved up five places on its 2010 ranking to become the nation’s Most Reputable State-Owned Enterprise. New Zealand Police was again voted New Zealand’s Most Reputable Government Department and the Salvation Army similarly held on to its 2010 ranking as our Most Reputable Not-For-Profit.
This year, Air New Zealand landed in second place as both the most reputable company and the most reputable organisation overall. However, the airline attracts more accolades for its smart business strategies, strong leadership and outstanding service rather than for its corporate morality. As one respondent it put it: “Air New Zealand is high profile, strong brand, is committed to customer and operational excellence and [it] achieves great results even in difficult times.”
­Building and retaining good reputation is clearly high on most organisations’ list of strategic objectives given today’s competitive and increasingly unsettled marketplace. And, according to Auckland-based corporate reputation expert Hannah Samuel, the digital domain has lifted reputation higher in “top of mind” organisational priorities.
“Organisations’ ability to control what they think is their reputation has been removed by the digital domain,” she says. “Actually, because of the way in which reputation is formed, organisations have never really been able to control their reputation. They can’t and never could control what others think. Now they can instantly share their thoughts with thousands of others. What individuals think is an organisation’s reputation.”
­­­Knowledge-based organisations, such as professional firms and consultancies like Beca, rely heavily on their good name. Beca’s considerably lower brand profile makes its survey success even more interesting. Its senior executives don’t enjoy high public profiles either. The company is, in that respect, the antithesis of Air New Zealand and other top-ranking finalists like Fonterra and Fletcher Building.
A lasting reputation is, according to Samuel, built on organisational integrity. And, despite the rise in consumer and investor cynicism, few individuals expect the impossible. “We don’t look for perfect organisations. But increasingly we are looking for organisations that deliver on their promises.”
Beca is perceived in that light, if comments from survey respondents are any indication. “They act ethically and their executives can be trusted,” said one. “It is great business model. It acts with integrity and behaves ethically,” said another. No other survey finalist was so consistently acknowledged for its perceived integrity and across the board high standards of performance.
Organisations are, it seems, thinking differently about what reputation really is and how it is earned. Reputation is not necessarily built on “brand”, something sports equipment marketer adidas should be contemplating in the wake of its disastrously arrogant response to local public and retailer objections to its All Black jersey sales strategy.
The adidas fiasco is three-dimension reflection of the changing nature of reputation construction, composition and implementation. Reputation has generally been left to marketing or communications to work on, says Samuel. Or, if it was thought about at all, it was delegated to customer care or customer services. “But building brand and building reputation are two very different processes,” she adds.
“Reputation is about an organisation’s culture. It is about everything an organisation says or promises, internally and externally. It is about how people are treated apart from what is said. It is about engagement, openness, transparency and creating empowering cultures that truly service the organisation’s stakeholders and customers.”
Organisational reputation needs constant repair, maintenance and reiteration. It can take years to build, but just seconds to dismantle. Failure to track trends and listen to what people want are, according to Samuel, the two most common reputation spoilers. “Companies can be leading edge one day and burned toast the next, simply by failing to see what is going on around them or by failing to listen to their stakeholders.”
Respondents to this year’s Most Reputable Organisation survey rated Beca’s “strong and effective” leadership its number one attribute. They rated Air New Zealand similarly. Strong leadership is the reputational factor that consistently rates most highly with respondents. The difference between the two enterprises appears to rest with what respondents consider are today’s most important manifestations of leadership.
In Beca’s case it’s the soft management stuff of culture, values, ethics, integrity and commitment to its stakeholders that resonates. Ironically, Beca works in some of the world’s most ethically challenged marketplaces. It has, as one respondent put it, “strong ethical values with balanced customer focus”.
When the company rubs up against practices such as bribery in some offshore markets, it applies its home-based ethical standards chief executive Keith Reynolds told NZ Management earlier this year. “We maintain our standards irrespective of the markets in which we operate. We have internal management processes to ensure that understanding is captured.”
Beca’s standards-based approach to business does not, in the eyes of its peers, compromise its “strong financial management and performance”. They rate this characteristic the company’s second highest attribute, closely followed by its “strong stakeholder relationships” and capacity to be “strategically innovative”.
Air New Zealand’s strong and effective leadership, strategic innovation and strong financial management are still the qualities from which it gathers greatest kudos. But respondents also acknowledged its strong ethical values and people-focused culture. “Its leadership and values and customer service are world-beating,” said o

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