Reputation is the level of trust, admiration and respect stakeholders have for a company or institution. At companies affected by a crisis, rebuilding their reputation requires taking a series of steps, with planning starting with the initial baseline of the credibility “stock” held prior to the crisis. That is the path we are now taking at Odebrecht.
In two recent surveys, one conducted by the Social, Political and Economic Research Institute (Ipespe) and the other by the consulting firm Interbrand, Odebrecht was considered as an innovative, dynamic, strong and sustainable brand. Despite facing the biggest crisis in its history, the company maintains the attributes that led it to become one of Brazil’s largest companies.
When seeking crisis-management solutions, the first aspect to focus on is the impact on business activities and the adverse effects on clients and society. That’s how we determine the dose of medicine need and the intensity of the therapy.
At Odebrecht, the first step of the plan to rebuild our reputation was doing our homework. Namely, acknowledging our mistakes, apologizing and undertaking a commitment always to act ethically and with integrity. Engaging leaders and team members in incorporating these transformations into their day-to-day activities. And fostering change that is not merely cosmetic.
A milestone in this effort was the publication, in March 2016, of the Commitment to Brazil, through which the company acknowledged the need to abandon practices that failed to meet society’s expectations. Since then, we have been working on implementing compliance measures that are aligned with the highest international standards. We created the Global Advisory Council, which is a group of prominent professionals renowned for their work at civil, academic and private organizations to support the development of the Group’s companies.
We welcomed independent supervisors, who are professionals that are monitoring the fulfillment of commitments undertaken in the Leniency Agreement entered into with Brazilian and U.S. authorities. They have free access to the Group’s offices to examine the operations and contribute to the implementation of compliance measures. The Ethics Line channel was improved and is now managed by an independent specialized company. A compliance training program for all team members was launched.
The Odebrecht Communication team works based on these changes in the company’s activities. Initially, given the damage to the Group’s reputation, we prioritized dialogue with employees, opinion makers and the media to solidify the perception that we are doing the right thing. In an open and transparent way, we presented the advances being made. Once this is concluded stage, the focus will be on the “right to exist,” targeting the public at large. We will work on values that never were abandoned by the team members: technical excellence, innovation, capacity to develop good professionals.
In parallel, Odebrecht redefined the brand’s management strategy: its Businesses may study brand changes, in line with specific needs, such as the interests of new partners and investors. This reflects the change in the entire Group’s governance model. The Holding Company will maintain its current brand, as it executes its role of guiding the Businesses via policies and maintaining the cultural unit.
We know that regaining trust and rebuilding our reputation is a lengthy process. Reclaiming the right to be heard and exist requires, first, proof that these changes are concrete and not cosmetic. The challenges are great and daily, as are the lessons learned. This is only the beginning, but I can assure you that Odebrecht is a new company.
Marcelo Lyra is Chief Communication & Sustainability Officer at Odebrecht S.A., with a B.Sc. in engineering and a graduate degree in General Management from Harvard Business School.