The Said Business School has come under fire for controversial appointments to an advisory board on corporate reputation.
The new hires include Douglas Daft, a former CEO of Coca-Cola company accused by campaigners of deliberately ignoring the murders of unionists in Colombia.
Oxford Amnesty International vice-president Ruth Simister accused the Said Business School of being “founded upon investments in the arm trade, having been donated £63 million by Wafic Said, and it looks like the School is set to further its links with individuals embroiled in violations of human rights.” She added that the school’s decision to appoint Daft “sends out a message that the University does not take the abuse of human rights seriously and is willing to support those involved not just in such abuses but in their silencing.”
John Tiner, the former director of the Financial Services Authority, has also been appointed. He is infamous for his support of ‘principles based regulation’, which many believe led the FSA to take an irresponsible approach to banking supervision.
Another new appointment to the board is Andy Hornby, ex-chief executive of HBOS plc. Hornby was widely criticised for his leadership of the bank, which lead to the emergency rescue deal with Lloyds TSB in January.
Both men were included in the Guardian’s ‘twenty-five people at the heart of the meltdown’, published this January.
The appointments have been met with resigned cynicism by some students. One first year politics student commented, “If the Said Business School thinks that Andy Hornby and John Tiner are qualified to advise on reputation, then I can only laugh.”
OULC President Jacob Turner, however, expressed more serious concerns. “The phrase “Corporate Reputation” might be a contradiction in terms these days, but the least they could have done might be to select someone who is not a bastion of exploitative capitalism.”
Rupert Younger, Director of the Centre for Corporate Reputation, defended the choices, saying, “Those invited [to the board] are committed to co-operation with academia to help further the understanding of reputation creation, maintenance, destruction and rehabilitation within corporations.
Also important is their contribution to Oxford’s Executive Education and so we selected those who would bring a valuable perspective to the education programmes we are offering.”
The Centre was established in January 2008 to promote “a better understanding of the way in which the reputation of corporations and institutions around the world are created, enhanced, and protected.”
The members of the Global Advisory Board are appointed by the centre, and serve for a period of 5 years. They are selected from a wide pool of corporate experience, and the School proudly comments that the Board includes, “very senior executives who are internationally recognised in their fields from industry, the professions, journalism, the Civil Service, regulators and from the third sector.”
The reaction from students involved in business has been supportive. Jordan Poulton, President-elect of Oxford Entrepreneurs said that he trusted the decision of the school, stating that Mr Hornby and Mr Tiner had previously had successful careers. He added that the criticism that Hornby had received “may indeed make him more qualified to sit on an advisory board for a centre focused on Corporate Reputation, since he will have experience of how easy corporate reputations are to damage, and one mustn’t underestimate the educational benefits that mistakes can bring.”
Many students agreed that advice on corporate reputation may be more valuable coming from those who have seen how easily reputations can be damaged. One Magdalen first-year commented that those appointed “know more than anyone about the difficulties that can be faced by firms in maintaining corporate reputation under challenging circumstances.”
The Said Business School, set up in 1996, is not a stranger to controversy: the involvement of Wafic Said in the Al Yamamah arms deals of the 80s meant many were reluctant to accept his donation of £23m. The offer was initially rejected by the formal parliament of senior academics due to his brokering role in the contracts between the BAE systems and the Saudi government. Although the Serious Fraud Office was investigating allegations of bribery and corruption related to the deals, the investigation was discontinued in 2006 on grounds of ‘public interest’.