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Image and Vision

John Price, Ph.D.

Successful companies put a large amount of time and effort into creating a specific image through their products and services and they way that they are presented to the public. Even to the extent of passing up immediate sales if they would damage the image of the company.

At the launch of the new Commodore, Ross McKenzie the director of Holden sales said that there were two important things about brand image: knowing what to do and what not to do. And something that Holden does not do is develop Commodores for the taxi trade. "We don't do taxis," McKenzie added. "They are detrimental to brand image."

When you are evaluating a company as a possible investment, as conscious investors it is vital to consider the services and products of the company. Do you like the products? Do you use their services? What about your friends? Would you recommend them to others? Instead of the actual products and services, it may be even more important to consider the image the company has, no matter whether the image is unplanned or planned.

In the book "The Warren Buffett CEO" by Robert Miles you get an idea of the type of management and companies favoured by Warren Buffett. Consider the actions by Bill Child, the head of the Berkshire Hathaway company R.C. Willey Home Furnishings. When a warranty company employed by R.C. Willey declared bankruptcy just days after the furniture company had paid a cheque for $180,000 (AUD $325,000) for warranty service, Child directed R.C. Willey to stand behind the warranties even though it was not legally obligated to do so.

Child said at the time. "We did it because our reputation with our customers is the most important thing our company has. Integrity must be constant, in good times as well as bad. We must be honest and trustworthy with our employees, our customers, our suppliers, and ourselves." To satisfy all the claims, R.C. Willey eventually paid out $1.4 million (AUD 2.55 million).

A similar philosophy is expressed by Chuck Huggins, the president and CEO of See's Candies, another company owned by Berkshire Hathaway. When asked to explain See's business, he replied that it is about the customers. He continued:

It's about making sure the customer is pleased whatever it may take, no matter how outrageous. Pleasing them is the most important thing we can do, and is absolutely vital to our success. We try to make the best product we can, but sometimes we make mistakes. And there are certain things that we do inadvertently, or because we are not watching things carefully enough, where we dissatisfy the customer. And when that happens, we always admit that we blew it, and ask what we can do to make it right. And then we stand on our heads until we get that done.

Sometimes a company establishes a certain image only later to realise that, although they may have got success from it, perhaps even massive international success, they would like to change the image. Believe it or not, McDonald's is attempting to do just that, at least in the USA. A recent consumer survey placed McDonald's bottom of 77 fast food chains in a range of categories from food quality to service. According to Jack Greenburg, McDonald's chairman and chief executive, the company is now refocusing on quality of products, customer service and cleanliness. It may be a case of too little too late.

Considering Australian companies, are there any companies that stand out in terms of their willingness to go that extra distance for their customers? Are there any that have a strong internal philosophy that you feel will guide them through the ups and downs of business to sustained success? If so, then these may be companies that are worth investigating more closely.

In some case the image a company has is based on the vision it has for itself. The image of a company is how the public sees it whereas the vision of a company is how it sees itself. The vision of a company goes beyond its immediate products and services-it determines its future structure, how it will try to position itself in the market, and what its offerings will be.

James Collins and Jerry Porras in their book "Built to Last" try to determine just what makes a visionary company. They believe a key component is a well-articulated core ideology. This ideology, in turn, is based upon two parts, core values which are the organisation's guiding principles, and purpose which are the organisation's fundamental reasons for existence beyond just making money. They argue that over time these companies far outperform their competitors that have not have this core ideology.

Conscious Investing is just a new company but we do have a vision. In part this vision is to help people become "conscious" about their finances in general and their investing in particular. Our mission statement is to help people create the wealth to enable them to live the lifestyles that they choose and to champion the causes they believe in. We may be small now, but our aims are big. Conscious Investor is just the start.

We thank all those who have subscribed to Conscious Investor®, who have put their name on our mailing list, or just visited our website. You are the reason why we started this company and the motivation for us to put in long hours in this early building stage. We hope that one day you will be proud to tell your grandchildren that you were one of the first people to subscribe to Conscious Investor or to use the services of Conscious Investing.  

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