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Companies With the Best (and Worst) Reputations

Michael B. Sauter and Thomas C. Frohlich

Shoppers walk past the iconic L.L. Bean boot outside the L.L. Bean retail store, Friday, March 8, 2013, in Freeport, Maine. L.L. Bean saw enough growth in revenue and profits in its fiscal year to warrant a healthy employee bonus approved Friday, but the retailer would've seen even stronger performance if the president and Congress would reach an agreement on the economy, the company's CEO Chris McCormick said. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Goldman Sachs has the worst reputation of any major American company. Upstate New York-based grocery chain Wegmans is the most highly-regarded company. Also notably, Samsung surpassed Apple this year as the technology company with the best reputation, and Amazon.com moved to second overall after occupying the top spot in the previous two years.

The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient, measures public opinion of the nation’s most recognizable companies. Respondents were asked to rate companies based on six components: emotional appeal, products and services, vision and leadership, workplace environment, social responsibility, and financial performance. These are the companies with the best (and worst) reputations.

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Click here to see the companies with the best reputations.

Click here to see the companies with the worst reputations.

A company’s public image often reflects that of its industry. “Industries do certainly have their own reputations,” explained Aneysha Pearce, vice president of consulting reputation management and public affairs at Nielsen. Pearce added that the public image of an industry can affect a specific company’s reputation, either positively or negatively.

This is likely one reason many of the companies with the worst reputations are in the financial services sector, including Bank of America, AIG, and Goldman Sachs. These banks, which many blame for directly contributing to the financial crisis, are still struggling to regain the public’s trust. The financial sector received a score of 35 out of 100. Any score below 50 is considered a “critical” reputation.

On the other end of the spectrum, technology companies make up what is by far the best-performing sector in this study. On average, companies in this industry scored 77 overall -- considered “very good.” By comparison, the next-highest industry -- travel and tourism -- scored 62.

One reason technology companies perform so well, while oil, financial services, and healthcare companies do not, may have to do with how we use their products. “The products and services provided by these companies often make your life easier, are fun and essential to our productivity, and in many ways create positive experiences for consumers," according to Pearce. Government, energy and financial services companies, on the other hand, offer relatively mundane products and services.

While industry reputation is a factor, a company’s reputation can still be traced to its practices. Companies with terrible reputations such as Koch Industries, Monsanto, and Dish Network are hated in large part for behaviors many consider reprehensible. Whether its gross environmental violations, perceived corruption, or consistently abysmal customer service, these companies have earned their poor reputations.

Meanwhile, some companies have been able to transcend their industry’s middling reputation. Amazon.com, for example, scored second overall, beating the retail industry average by well over 20 points. According to Harris Poll, the company’s success was “driven by breadth and quality of products, customer centricity and public trust.”

Many companies with the best reputations are also favorably regarded for their quality customer service, just as customers of the companies with the worst reputations often report some of the worst customer satisfaction scores. All of the most favorably regarded companies had better customer satisfaction scores than their respective industry averages. On the other hand, not only did the companies with the worst reputations generally fare worse in their respective industries, but also they operated in industries that were themselves rated poorly for customer service. Three of the 10 companies with the worst reputations had among the five, worst customer service scores, as measured by Zogby Analytics.

To determine America’s most and least reputable companies, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed reputation scores among the nation’s 100 most recognizable companies from the 2015 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient (RQ), produced by Harris Interactive, a subsidiary of Nielsen. The study consists of two parts: a nominations stage in which consumers identify the nation’s most visible companies, followed by a ratings stage in which each company’s reputation is measured on a scale of 0-100. In addition, we considered company consumer satisfaction scores from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), customer service ratings based on a 24/7 Wall St.-commissioned Zogby Analytics poll, and company information and financial performance from SEC filings.

These are the companies with the best (and worst) reputations.

The Companies With the Best Reputations

10. Google (GOOG)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 78.4
> Industry: Technology
> CEO: Lawrence E. Page

Of the six reputation dimensions, Google was rated best for its workplace environment. In the competitive tech industry, Google offers numerous employee perks to attract the most qualified workers in a limited applicant pool. In addition to health insurance and benefits, Google offers on-campus amenities such as exercise facilities, as well as free legal advice and reimbursements for further education. Google’s good reputation extends beyond its workforce. According to the ACSI, Google users were more satisfied with Google's offerings than they were with most other Internet portals and search engines. The Internet behemoth reported revenues of more than $66 billion in 2014 -- one of the largest figures in the world and up substantially from the previous year.

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9. Apple (AAPL)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 81.8
> Industry: Technology
> CEO: Timothy D. Cook

While Apple’s reputation among survey respondents fell slightly from last year’s third place, and even further from its first place position in 2012, it is still one of the most favored companies in the nation. Of the six reputation dimensions, the company was rated best for its vision and leadership, trailing only Wegmans Food Markets. The growing popularity and sales of Apple's products are likely linked to the company’s stellar reputation. According to a Pew Research Center study in 2013, more than half of Americans owned smartphones, a significant portion of which -- particularly among people with high incomes -- were iPhones. According to Pearce, the iPhone is generally regarded as a high-quality product, but many also regard Apple’s products as overpriced. Apple reported revenues of $182.8 billion in its fiscal 2014, one of the largest sales figures in the world and up from the previous year.

8. Publix Supermarkets
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: N/A
> Industry: Supermarket
> CEO: William E. Crenshaw

Publix Supermarkets is one of several companies with the best reputations operating in the retail food industry. It's the company's first appearance in the top 10 on the Harris Interactive survey. According to the company’s website, it is the largest employee-owned grocery chain and one of the largest supermarkets nationwide. At the end of 2014, Publix employed 175,000 people, and according to employee rankings at Glassdoor.com, it was recognized as one of the 50 best places to work. The supermarket’s customers also approve of the company. Publix was a long-time leader among U.S. supermarket chains for customer satisfaction. While it fell to third place last year, behind Wegmans and Trader Joe’s, it still has the third-best overall customer satisfaction score.

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7. L.L. Bean
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: N/A
> Industry: Clothing retailer
> CEO: Christopher J. McCormick

No other retail apparel company had a better reputation than L.L. Bean. The outdoor clothing retailer was one of the top five companies in two of the six reputation dimensions -- emotional appeal and workplace environment. While L.L. Bean is not included in the ACSI, it was ranked first for customer satisfaction by two other research firms, StellaService and ForeSee. L.L. Bean, based in Maine, is over 100 years old and its long history has perhaps solidified its strong reputation among the general public. In addition, many L.L. Bean fans likely appreciate the company’s return-anything policy.

6. Kraft Foods (KRFT)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 78.8
> Industry: Food and beverage
> CEO: John T. Cahill

Kraft has improved its reputation significantly, moving from 12th overall in 2013 and 2014 to sixth this year. The consumer packaged food and beverage company is not in the top five in any single dimension of reputation. This means that Kraft performs well across the board, but not exceptionally in any one category. In March, Kraft made a major splash by announcing a merger with famed ketchup manufacturer Heinz. After the deal was announced, the company's shares jumped more than 30%. Last month, the company announced it would drop the use of preservatives from its kids table and dormroom-favorite macaroni and cheese. The merger and the preservatives announcements could both give the company a boost in next year’s Reputation Quotient.

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5. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 77.7
> Industry: Pharmaceutical
> CEO: Alex Gorsky

Johnson & Johnson is the fifth-largest pharmaceutical company and the sixth-largest consumer health company in the world, according to the company’s website. J&J’s reputation suffered in recent years due to massive recalls, including of over-the-counter medications Benadryl and Children's Tylenol. Since then, however, the company seems to have recovered in the eyes of the general public. Founded in 1887, J&J is one of the older companies on this list, and many Americans likely associate a variety of household products with the company. J&J posted profits of $16.3 billion in 2014, up from the year before.

4. Costco (COST)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 80.8
> Industry: Retailer
> CEO: W. Craig Jelinek

In 2014, Costco employed 195,000 full- and part-time employees worldwide. Costco customers were more satisfied than any other company operating in the specialty retail industry, with an ACSI score of 84 -- an especially high score both in and outside the industry. A significant portion of the company’s revenues are generated through membership fees, and Costco members seem to enjoy the business model. Costco’s member renewal rate was 91% in the United States and Canada. The wholesale warehouse store ranked among the best five companies in three of the six reputation dimensions: emotional appeal, products and services, and workplace environment.

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3. Samsung
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 80.7
> Industry: Technology
> CEO: Oh-Hyun Kwon

Samsung's reputation rank improved significantly this year, surpassing its main competitor Apple, which fell to ninth overall. Just two years ago, Samsung was ranked 13th, while Apple's reputation was ranked first. The company’s Galaxy series of phones and tablets has been a stunning success and has driven some customers away from Apple’s iPhones and iPads. Samsung owes its high reputation rank to nearly across-the-board high scores in the reputation quotient. It ranks in the top five in four of the reputation dimensions: emotional appeal, products and services, vision and leadership, and financial performance. In 2014, Samsung scored higher than any other cell phone manufacturer in the ACSI.

2. Amazon.com (AMZN)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 83.9
> Industry: Retailer
> CEO: Jeffrey P. Bezos

Like several other companies with the best reputations, Amazon.com is regarded very favorably among the general public and is very successful financially. It is the top-scoring company for customer satisfaction among Internet retailers. The 10-year old retail behemoth posted revenues of roughly $89.0 billion last year, up from the previous year -- the online retailer has been growing dramatically for years. Despite the growth, the company posted a sizable loss of $241 million in fiscal 2014. Yet, ordinary consumers are not the only people who favor Amazon.com. Because many on Wall Street view the company’s losses as temporary and resulting from CEO Jeff Bezos' long-term strategy of favoring expansion over short-term gains, Amazon.com’s stock price has shot up nearly 35% year to date.

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1. Wegmans Food Markets
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: N/A
> Industry: Supermarket
> CEO: Daniel R. Wegman

Considering that the companies ranked by the reputation quotient are first identified based on being well-known, it is remarkable Wegmans makes it on the list at all, let alone scores first overall. The Rochester, NY-based supermarket chain was locally located for some time, and even now can only be found in just six states. Still, the overwhelmingly positive reputation of the chain, which boasts numerous accolades for its food selection, customer service, and workplace environment, has placed it as the company with the best reputation. “You tend to have a love/hate relationship with your grocer, I think. You either love them, or you view them as a necessary evil,” Pearce said. With Wegmans, it is clearly the former.

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The Companies With the Worst Reputations.

10. Bank of America (BAC)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 55.3
> Industry: Financial services
> CEO: Brian Moynihan

While it is among the 10 companies with the worst reputations, Bank of America's reputation has improved among the most of any company on this list. BofA was actually the worst-ranked corporation last year. During the Great Recession and subsequent bailout, most of the financial services sector firms took a hit to their reputation. The bank was still rated one of the absolute worst in terms of vision and leadership, although it did score better than AIG and Goldman Sachs in this category. BofA also stayed out of the bottom five in each of the five other components of the reputation score, while the other two banks were among the worst in all six components. In a Zogby poll commissioned by 24/7 Wall St., nearly one in four people said the bank’s customer service was poor, worse than any other company included in the survey.

9. Charter Communications (CHTR)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: N/A
> Industry: Telecommunications
> CEO: Thomas M. Rutledge

Telecommunications companies also tend to have a poor reputation. Charter Communications, while not the worst in its industry, is certainly no exception. In the ACSI, Charter’s customer satisfaction scores in the telecommunications, Internet, and subscription television services sectors took a dive between 2013 and 2014. These scores were poor even in these already poorly rated segments. In early 2014, Charter lost a bid to acquire Time Warner Cable to Comcast. But with regulators expressing concerns about the merger and the deal abandoned, Charter may once again pursue TWC for a possible merger.

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8. Comcast (CMCSA)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 62.6
> Industry: Telecommunications
> CEO: Brian L. Roberts

Like many cable service providers, Comcast has one of the worst reputations for customer service. In Zogby’s poll on customer satisfaction, just under one in four people said the company’s service was poor, second-worst rating overall. In the Harris Reputation Quotient survey, the company scored in the bottom five for its products and services. Those surveyed also thought Comcast had one of the worst workplace environments. For a while, it appeared the company was on track to merge with Time Warner Cable, but regulators' concerns over already limited competition in the cable services industry led to the deal failing in April. According to Ars Technica, the company spent over a third of a billion dollars in the unsuccessful acquisition attempt.

7. Koch Industries
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: N/A
> Industry: Conglomerate
> CEO: Charles G. Koch

The Koch family sponsors several philanthropic foundations, which donate millions of dollars each year to a range of organizations and causes. Yet, Koch Industries’ reputation among the general public is worse than all but a handful of other companies. Few corporate leaders inspire more controversy. The diversified global conglomerate helps fund the large-scale conservative political activities of brothers David and Charles -- often as part of philanthropic works. David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity foundation has bankrolled and worked closely with the Tea Party movement since its inception in 2009, for example. Survey respondents may have also associated the company with its long history of gross environmental violations.

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6. Sears Holdings Corporation (SHLD)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 60.3
> Industry: Retailer
> CEO: Edward S. Lampert

Survey respondents found that Sears has the worst vision and leadership as well as the worst financial performance of any company reviewed -- and these ratings were not unwarranted. Sears has been in dire fiscal straits for some time, and its operations and financials appear to be getting worse. In each of the last three fiscal year, the company reported net losses in excess of a billion dollars, including a $1.8 billion shortfall in its most recent fiscal year. The company also scored poorly in customer satisfaction. In the 2014 ACSI, the department store chain’s scores fell significantly from the previous year to one of the worst in the department store sector.

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5. Halliburton (HAL)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 57.3
> Industry: Energy
> CEO: David J. Lesar

In the mid-2000s, amid the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, defense contractor Halliburton was a frequent target of outrage from Americans. Many were concerned with the company’s profits on both wars as well as the potential conflict of interest arising from the company’s former CEO Dick Cheney serving as vice president of the United States at the time. A decade later, Halliburton remains one of the most disreputable American Companies. In this year’s Reputation Quotient survey, the company scored second-worst overall in emotional appeal. While it remains in the bottom five overall, Halliburton’s public image finally seems to be improving from that time. Halliburton’s reputation score rose from 52.5 when it was introduced to the Harris survey in 2013 to just under 60 in 2015.

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4. Monsanto (MON)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 57.3
> Industry: Agriculture
> CEO: Hugh Grant

When people think of agricultural chemical manufacturing, usually the only corporate name that comes to mind is industry giant Monsanto. Unfortunately, a great many of those people tend to have very negative thoughts about the controversial conglomerate. Monsanto manufactures pesticides and a variety of genetically modified food products and seeds, which tend to be viewed with skepticism. According to a Pew Research Center study, A majority of Americans said they believed GMO products to be unsafe. In the Harris survey, Monsanto rated in the bottom five for its products and services, and second-worst overall for its social responsibility.

3. Dish Network (DISH)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: N/A
> Industry: Telecommunication
> CEO: Charles W. Ergen

Cable and satellite television providers routinely receive among the worst customer satisfaction ratings and have among the nation’s worst reputations. Even in this poorly regarded industry, Englewood, Colorado-based Dish Network has the worst reputation. In a Zogby Analytics poll, more than one in five participants rated Dish’s customer satisfaction as poor, fifth-worst among companies included in the survey. While the company has reported increasing profits over the past few years, it still has a reputation for poor financial performance, according to the Harris poll. Those surveyed also expressed concerns over the company’s leadership. Dish scored third-worst overall in that measure. In February, founder Charlie Ergen returned to take over for outgoing CEO Joe Clayton.

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2. AIG (AIG)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 58.3
> Industry: Financial services
> CEO:

The massive more than $180 billion government bailout of insurance company AIG during the 2008 financial crisis may still be fresh in the minds of many Americans. The particularly bad media attention likely damaged AIG’s image even among non-customers. Perhaps as a result, AIG has nearly the worst reputation among U.S. companies. The company trails only Goldman Sachs, which AIG founder Hank Greenberg claimed was among the primary recipients of the bailout money when AIG paid all its bills. Greenberg, who opposed the bailout, led AIG shareholders in a civil suit against the government in late 2014. Shareholders claim they were cheated out of billions of dollars after the government's takeover despite the fact the company has returned to profitability since the Great Recession. While AIG is not officially part of the litigation, Greenberg’s effort to collect more tax dollars has likely not helped AIG’s reputation among the general public. The final ruling is still pending.

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1. Goldman Sachs (GS)
> Reputation score:
> 2014 score: 58.1
> Industry: Financial services
> CEO: Lloyd C. Blankfein

No U.S. company received a worse rating from Harris Poll than global investment firm Goldman Sachs. The company is one of the nation’s largest banks, although more than half of its staff works outside the country. And like other especially unpopular financial industry firms, Goldman Sachs’s reputation suffered considerably during the Great Recession. In 2010, Goldman Sachs paid a $550 million settlement to the SEC for misleading its mortgage customers -- a record high SEC penalty. Goldman Sachs was still paying the price last year, long after the housing market collapsed. In the middle of 2014, the bank settled an FHFA lawsuit for roughly $1.2 billion, resolving complaints of irresponsible mortgage bond sales, again, during the financial crisis.

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