Business

'Trust me, I'm a chief executive'

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Media captionLeadership expert Steve Tappin says rebuilding trust is now a "critical issue" for companies.

Emotional chief executives are rare - by the time they've clawed their way to the top, most leaders have had substantial amounts of training to ensure they retain their composure, say the right thing and convey the correct corporate message.

Yet when Julian Warowioff explains what the firm he works for does, his eyes start to well with tears.

"It's the idea of doing something for a higher cause. It sounds a little pathetic but for me it has always been my motivation for why I want to be in the business world," he says explaining his emotion.

German start-up Lemonaid Beverages - a soft drinks firm using organic and fair trade ingredients - gives 5p of each bottle purchased to its charity which aims to help disadvantaged communities globally.

Without the big marketing budgets of its multinational rivals, Mr Warowioff, UK managing director at Lemonaid, says the firm is trying to carve out its own niche using word of mouth, and trying to spread the word about the company and its charitable projects by attending music festivals and similar such events to meet potential customers directly.

To do this successfully, he says it relies on its staff, like him, having a genuine passion for the firm's wider social agenda to sell its products.

Image caption From each bottle sold, Lemonaid Beverages gives 5p to its charity

"[People] always ask is it a very sort of green looking advertisement campaign of a big company, or do you guys really live by the standards that you claim for?" he says.

Critical issue

This kind of authenticity is what larger firms often struggle to convey, both externally to customers and shareholders, but also internally to their own staff.

Leadership expert Steve Tappin believes the financial crisis has created the problem - leading to a "huge" lack of trust in big business.

Since then a seemingly never ending stream of corporate scandals - from the manipulation of global benchmark rate Libor, to foreign exchange rate fixing and Tesco managing to overstate its half-year profit by £250m -have only exacerbated the issue.

As a result rebuilding trust is one of the most critical issues facing chief executives today, according to Mr Tappin.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Denise Morrison says customers are now more interested in fresh food

Campbell Soup chief executive Denise Morrison knows first hand of its importance. The 146-year-old firm famed for its tinned soups, is having to adapt to a new world sceptical of big food makers.

In particular, she says consumers want fresh food and are more interested in the health impact of what they're eating.

Under her watch, the firm has bought healthfood brand Bolthouse Farms - the biggest acquisition in the firm's history - and baby food maker Plum Organic.

The rapid changes in how the firm operates have required her to work hard at rebuilding trust with her staff, and she's found the best way is to be open.

"I want to treat people the way I like to be treated and be very straight with them. We've navigated a lot of change at Campbell's. The best thing for me to be able to do is to discuss that change with people," she says.

Savvy companies are beginning to realise that the current lack of trust creates a competitive gap which they can take advantage of.

'Trust and transparency'

Tim Brown, chief executive at global design firm IDEO, has recently helped launch Chinese restaurant chain Hunter Gatherer.

The chain is trying to directly address fears over food safety - an area where China's record has been poor with a series of disasters from melamine in home-produced baby formula to mislabelled meat.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hunter Gatherer uses produce from its own farms in its restaurants

The restaurant chain grows its own food on organic farms and displays daily what percentage of the menu has come from them.

"It's a great eating experience but it's also about trust and transparency," says Mr Brown.

Firms - which get it right - can also create a competitive advantage in securing the best staff, says China Gorman, a HR executive with over 20 years' experience.

"No matter where in the world, no matter what industry, no matter the size of the company - trust is the foundation for creating a great workplace culture," she says.

But she admits it doesn't come easily to many, particularly those more used to a hierarchical structure.

"For some in the baby boomer generation knowledge is power. We operate on a need-to-know basis and I'll tell you what you need to know."

This feature is based on interviews by leadership expert Steve Tappin for the BBC's CEO Guru series, produced by Neil Koenig.

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