Reputation is a precious commodity to a business or leader, damage can not only destroy current value but future value and trust. Studying reputational damage and corporate governance for over 30 years, I see repeated failures to learn that reputation is attributed and cannot be bought, it is not only earned by behaviour but damaged by it also.
Reputation of a place is slightly different: a city, region or country acquires a reputation over time but unlike a business or person this reputation is more durable and less prone to catastrophic devaluation. A location derives its reputation from a wide variety of factors, typically these include belief about personal safety, political stability, low criminality and a legal system that is not corrupt.
Transparency International publishes a Corruption Index that ranks countries in order which equates to the ease of doing business. In a typical year a country like Norway or Switzerland will be at the top and one like Somalia or Malawi near the bottom. This gives an amalgamation of all the reputational determinants: developed countries in the top quartile and poorest in the fourth.
This ranking also correlates with displacement and immigration movement: people in poorer countries are keen to escape war, famine, poverty and corrupt regimes in search of a better life for their children. We witness this at the US/Mexico border and at the borders of the EU with Turkey and North Africa. Less corrupt countries are seen as safer environments in which to bring up a family, where democracy and the rule of law offer protection.
Britain has a well-deserved reputation for taking in immigrants and helping them to assimilate into a more benign culture than one from which they flee. This reputation is durable and acquired over many years. Despite a government policy of the last 10 years which has tried to reverse this through a hostile environment, this is still a destination of choice for refugees and no amount of border patrol boats in the Channel will change a perception built up over centuries.
As one grateful migrant said recently: ‘People leave their countries not because they want to but because they absolutely have to, they’re ready to work, study, integrate and improve the economy, but they can only do that if given the opportunity.’ Fortunately, a xenophobic government can’t trash a country’s good reputation overnight, but it is certainly trying.