McKinsey, KPMG and Bell Pottinger will all be 'gone' - Eskom exec

Cape Town - Consultancy firm McKinsey and auditing firm KPMG are likely to follow the same route as public relations firm Bell Pottinger, in the view of Chose Choeu, divisional executive of corporate communication of Eskom.

For him the most important aspects of a company are its products and services, leadership and governance.

"Great leaders are needed and people must believe they are great leaders. It is about ethical franchising. They must believe you have an ethical leader, that your company believes in ethics and that it can be trusted. Having a great product is very important too," Choeu said on Thursday.

He was part of a panel discussion on what companies should say in a difficult situation at the annual congress of the SA Council of Shopping Centres (SACSC).

"When there is a crisis, the first thing a CEO will (usually) say is 'do we have a public relations (PR) company? So that box can be ticked. And just see where the Guptas got with what was deemed the best PR firm: Bell Pottinger is gone," said Choeu.

"Secondly a CEO will (likely) ask 'do we have the best auditing firm' - so that box can be ticked. But where is KPMG today? I can tell you in six months they will be disappearing."

He also mentioned that a year ago Mckinsey "was the number one company in the world, yet it is going to be gone by the end of the year". In his view it is because companies like these were "unethical, untrusted and their reputations destroyed overnight".

Different stakeholders

"The world has changed. There are now different types of stakeholders. They are much more active these days and can verify facts instantly. The level of trust in the SA government is low. So, as government we have to do a lot so that people trust us when we face a difficult situation," said Choeu.

"The most important thing is to ensure you build trust in a business. It is difficult when, even before you communicate in a crisis or a difficult situation, you are not trusted. The more open and democratic you are, the more you have to do to ensure you have the support and trust of your society."

A survey he referred to actually places Eskom's reputation last in a survey of reputations of companies in SA.

"Notwithstanding the fact that you know what to do in a crisis, it (does not help) if you are not trusted and do not have a great reputation. So you need to build that reputation first so that when you get to a crisis you are already trusted," said Choeu.

"My argument is that it is very important that, when you do communicate, you don’t first of all start with (mere) ticking of boxes regarding the 'PR best agency and best auditors'," he explained.

"Eskom has a surplus of electricity. There is no way you will have load shedding from Eskom over the next five years. It is true and yet no one believes us."

King IV

Choeu served on the King IV team and called upon companies to go and look at what the King IV report says about company ethics.

"For stakeholders it is much more about ethics now. People will not believe anyone they do not trust," said Choeu.

Kevin Welman, director of ByDesign Communications, moderated the panel discussion of which Choeu was part of.

He believes a company must communicate often, tell as much as it can again and again and build its reputation in advance to move through a crisis easily when it arrives.

For Andre Fourie, founder of Fury Strategic - also part of the panel discussion - if sometimes takes a crisis for a company to understand the level of trust of the audience it deals with.

When there is some disruption of people's trust, they can react quite emotionally. During a crisis, take time to listen to what people are most afraid of and respond in an insensitive way to help restore and safeguard that trust, because once it is gone, it is almost impossible to get it back.

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