Corporate America--the brand--may well be grappling for years to come with the damage it suffered as a result of the transgressions that came to a head in 2002. The challenge business now faces is restoring public trust, overcoming the negative associations that have become linked with the brand.

Enron, Arthur Andersen, Tyco, and Worldcom were among those that cemented the characteristic of greed that has become firmly associated with the corporate America brand promise.

But many other corporations have compounded the damage by ably demonstrating its other representations. One of the more notable is that of questionable--if not illegal--business practices, manifested by vastly overstated (and now being restated) earnings and heavy use of stock options to wildly inflate CEO salaries.

Here's the rub, though. The public's expectations of the Corporate America brand probably weren't too high to begin with.

A mid-2002 Gallup poll had only 20% of Americans expressing confidence in big business. But that figure was not that much higher at 28% a year earlier, before the scandals erupted.

Interestingly, it has been government leaders--not business leaders--who have called for reforms, making a show of carting of executive “criminals” in handcuffs to the pokey in a bid restore the public's trust in our economic system.

In fact, the task of restoring trust in Corporate America and the companies that comprise it should fall to business leaders, not government leaders. And while the process is not unlike that of rebuilding a product or service brand, it is substantially more onerous, time-consuming and, when all's said and done, elusive.

Yet, the more it's done individually, the better the odds that the bad apples will be considered the exception to the rule.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Judy Hopelain Ms. Hopelain is a Partner with San Francisco office of Prophet (www.prophet.com), a leading consulting firm specializing in brand and business strategy.