By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — A recent survey revealed Whirlpool Corp. is near the top of the most trustworthy companies in Michigan.
Results from a three-year survey from Grand Valley State University’s Koeze Business Ethics Initiative showed Whirlpool is the second-most trusted Michigan company.
The survey asked 2,400 Michigan adults questions about familiarity, trustworthiness and integrity to rank the top 25 publicly-held companies, which included the Benton Harbor-based company.
Michael DeWilde, executive director of the Koeze Business Ethics Initiative and co-author of the study, teaches a business ethics course at Grand Valley and became interested in how to measure trust among businesses.
“Ever since the Enron scandal in the early 2000s, there has been more emphasis on becoming more transparent to consumers,” DeWilde said. “Some companies fall short, as we’ve seen recently from Wells Fargo. The state is so dependent on these companies that we wanted to see how they scored in trust.”
DeWilde and his collaborators selected 25 publicly traded companies that recorded the highest revenue in Michigan. Using a scale of one to five, surveyors asked people to rank these companies based on trustworthiness, familiarity and integrity. DeWilde then averaged the scores keeping in mind other factors like age, geographic location, education and gender.
Kellogg Co., Whirlpool and Ford Motor Co. topped the list of the most trustworthy companies in Michigan, with Battle Creek-based Kellogg’s ranking 3.15 on a scale of one to five followed by Whirlpool and Ford each at 3.07.
More than half of the companies included on the list were rated at 2.9 or above. At the bottom of the list were Midland-based Dow Chemical Co. with 2.62 and General Motors with 2.67.
Jeff Noel, vice president of global communications and public affairs at Whirlpool, said they are honored to see the survey results.
“…Whirlpool has been committed to upholding our values of mutual respect, integrity, diversity with inclusion, teamwork and the spirit of winning,” Noel said in an email. “Through these values we fulfill our obligation to earn and maintain the trust of stakeholders, employees and the communities in which we operate by adhering to and setting the highest values and standards possible.”
DeWilde said the plan is to publish a more comprehensive Trustworthiness Index of Michigan companies in 2017.
While a more in-depth analysis of the current survey results is underway, DeWilde said it was interesting to see the public’s tendency to place most of the companies in the three range.
DeWilde said that suggests either the public isn’t aware of most of the firms to make an informed judgment, is aware but doesn’t know whether to trust them, or is aware and places the companies where they should be.
“I don’t think there was anything terribly surprising. We tried throwing out the ones and fives and it didn’t change things at all,” DeWilde said. “There isn’t that much difference between 2.62 to 3.15. Why I’m curious is to get a better sense of if people just don’t know or just score them in the middle.”
DeWilde noted the index will help answer this question and go beyond just the public’s perception.
The index is expected to incorporate other elements through philanthropy, employee relationships and bankruptcy risks for each company. When the index is complete, DeWilde will release it to the public.
Dissecting the results
DeWilde and his team looked into the survey results even further, breaking the answers down by demographics and regions.
Among the lowest scored region, DeWilde said the Midland area – where Dow’s headquarters are – actually trust companies a little less than the rest of the state.
He also discovered people over the age of 65 don’t trust companies as much as the younger population do.
Another factoid from the survey revealed the average Michigander probably only knows 10 companies on the list. In familiarity, DeWilde was confounded that the popular car company known as General Motors averaged a score of 4 out of 5.
While DeWilde didn’t break down the demographics for Whirlpool or its region specifically, he said their results were as expected.
“Whirlpool doesn’t surprise me given the brand name and recognition over time. It’s high relative to others on the list,” DeWilde said. “Because it has a longstanding brand recognition, I think the general perception is the product has high quality and durability. Consumers didn’t tend to think of any specific scandal.”