Forum Covers Managing Risk ‘Before It Manages You’

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While the Internet initially was a communication tool between the U.S. Department of Defense and multiple academic organizations, it has become the backbone of a global economy and government operations, the Hon. Tom Ridge told a rapt audience of more than 200 directors at the NACD Strategy & Risk Forum in San Diego. The first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Ridge currently serves as president and CEO of the strategic consulting firm Ridge Global and is a director for the Hershey Co. Ridge delivered the opening keynote to directors convened for the two-day forum co-hosted by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and its sponsors.

“We’ve come a long way from a simple communication tool,” Ridge said. “What’s really remarkable is the tool is designed to be an open platform.… It wasn’t designed to be secure. It wasn’t designed to be global. The ubiquity of the Internet is its strength, and the ubiquity of the Internet is its weakness. For every promise of connectivity, there’s a potential vulnerability.”

A report released last year by McKinsey & Co. and the World Economic Forum found that more than half of all respondents surveyed—and 70 percent of executives from financial institutions—view cybersecurity as a strategic risk to their companies. The report was based on interviews with more than 200 chief information officers, chief information security officers, law enforcement officials, and other practitioners in the United States and around the world.

“In this world, you’ve got to manage the risk before it manages you,” Ridge advised the audience.

Support for the forum was provided by BDO USA, the Center for Audit Quality, Dechert, Dentons, ­Diligent, Heidrick & Struggles, KPMG’s Audit Committee Institute, Latham & Watkins, Pearl Meyer & Partners, Rapid7, and Vinson & Elkins.

The Chattering Class

Risks to reputation are nuanced and numerous. Jonathan Blum, senior vice president and chief public affairs and global nutrition officer for Yum! Brands Inc., which operates 41,000 KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell restaurants worldwide, has seen firsthand the damage that can be done to a company’s reputation. He recounted an incident that hit the brand’s reputation and bottom line, and ultimately spurred substantial changes in the company’s supply chain.

In December 2012, a state-owned television network in China reported that some local poultry suppliers were putting unlawful amounts of antibiotics in chicken. One of the many suppliers investigated happened to be one of KFC’s suppliers, albeit one of the restaurant chain’s smallest. “But, because we’re the largest brand in China, not just the largest restaurant, we obviously bore the brunt of the publicity,” Blum said.

The most damaging aspect of the negative attention, according to Blum, was not the investigative report that aired on television, but rather the chatter on social media in the wake of the report. The fallout was a tarnished reputation, a sharp downturn in sales, and some decisive action.

“Consumer trust plummeted. Belief in our brand plummeted. Our sales plummeted. We saw a huge drop in our stock,” Blum said. “Now, this was at the end of 2012, so the impact on our financial results that year was negligible. Up until 2013, we had had a 10-year run of at least 10 percent [earnings per share] growth year over year, which is pretty unusual. In 2013, given the ditch we were in in China, our earnings per share dropped 9 percent. We lost $270 million in profit as a result of this incident, and it took about a year to rebound.” In the aftermath of the negative publicity, Yum! Brands learned that its stakeholders wanted answers to three questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. What was being done about it?
  3. How would the company would prevent it from happening again?

Yum! Brands apologized to the public, fired about 1,000 small poultry suppliers, and worked with the Chinese government to upgrade the quality of the poultry supply.

“Over time, that rebuilt consumer trust,” Blum said.

The company also took a significant step toward managing its reputation on social media.  “As a result of this incident, around the globe, 24/7, we monitor what consumers are saying about us and we immediately respond,” Blum said.

More information on managing reputation risk is available in the publication Board Oversight of Reputation Risk, part of the Director Dialogue series by NACD and global consulting firm Protiviti.

Additional coverage of the forum is available in the July/August 2015 issue of NACD Directorship magazine.

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