Increasingly, it can seem as if business is a popularity contest. The social media tools that we use to ‘like’ our friends, family and other favourites, are also used to flame and shame those who are guilty of amorphous 21st century sins such as contributing to the growing divide between rich and poor, or aggressively avoiding tax. But who wouldn’t like to be wealthier? Who has any idea of where the line is drawn between acceptable and unacceptable levels of wealth, or who draws it? Who among us would voluntarily pay more tax than is due, even if there was a mechanism for doing this? You can apply the ‘tabloid test’ and look at business through the ‘reputation lens’, but even if you can please some of them all of the time or all of them some of the time, you still can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Unless you are cultural phenomenon, like Apple. Media coverage may have publicised problems in the Chinese supply chain that produces parts for Apple computers and smartphones - such as deadly safety issues, chemicals that scar people’s hands, 60-hour weeks and long stretches of work with no breaks. Yet this does not seem to have deterred the thousands of fans who have queued to buy the latest iPhone, or iPad or the lightest MacBook Air. Nor has it stopped Apple being the most valuable brand (according to Forbes), or the first public company to be valued at more than $700bn (£446bn); it was already the most valuable business. Apple is so popular, that when C-level executives were asked to nominate their most admired CFO from the Fortune 500 they also chose the man at Apple.
As mentioned in a recent article for FSN, this is Luca Maestri. The power and iconic status of the brand may well have done more to influence his nomination, than the achievements of the man himself. Maestri only recently succeeded his predecessor Peter Oppenheimer, who retired last year after being CFO during a decade when Apple’s annual revenue grew from $8 billion to $171 billion; and 55% of the survey respondents admitted that the financial performance of the company was their primary reason for nominating the CFO. So despite the power of social media and the rise of the ethical investor, if a CFO wants to win a popularity contest, it looks as if the bottom line remains the bottom line. Or does it? Why not pop over to the FSN LinkedIn group and join the debate.