Building trust – job one for CEOs

By Shilo Zhang

A global report says business is expected to be an agent of change amid plunging levels of trust in institutions. The number one job for CEOs is building trust, above increasing profits and making quality products.

Edelman is a global communications marketing firm. It has been surveying people in 28 countries around the world on trust for 18 years. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, employers have become the new ‘safe house’ in global governance.

Here are the main findings from the 2018 Edelman report:

  • Trust in the US has suffered the largest ever drop in the survey’s history. Trust among the general population fell nine points to 43 (out of a possible 100 points). Trust among the more informed public ‘imploded’, falling 23 points to 45, the lowest of any country surveyed. This is attributed to a staggering lack of faith in the US government.
  • At the other end of the scale, China tops the list for trust in both the general population (74 points) and informed public (83).
  • For the first time, media is the least trusted institution globally. It is distrusted in 22 out of the 28 countries surveyed. This is mainly driven by a lack of trust in platforms such as search engines and social media. Sixty three percent of respondents say they don’t know how to tell good journalism from falsehoods.
  • Voices of authority are regaining credibility, with faith in technical experts and academics on the rise.
  • The most trusted sectors are technology, education and professional services. The least trusted sector is financial services.
  • CEO credibility has risen sharply over the past year. Nearly two-thirds of respondents say they want CEOs to take the lead on policy change instead of waiting for government, which now ranks significantly below business in trust in 20 countries.


The survey results show the role of business in society is more important than ever. The crisis in trust among global institutions, most notably the media, has created a vacuum for respected voices of authority to fill. There’s an opportunity for business leaders to gain trust and profile by speaking out.

Richard Edelman says: “Trust is only going to be regained when the truth moves back to centre stage. Institutions must answer the public’s call for providing factually accurate, timely information and joining the public debate. Media cannot do it alone because of political and financial constraints. Every institution must contribute to the education of the populace.”

Trust in employers tends to be high and there is an expectation from the respondents that business will take a lead in regaining trust.

Rachel Brown is CEO of the Sustainable Business Network. She says: “I recently heard a regional managing director of a large global brand reflect that most people believed CEOs’ main driver was greed. He was mortified, but understood why people would believe that.

“I encourage everyone – particularly business leaders – to pay attention to the findings of this report. Amid this crisis of trust, and the lack of faith that any institution cares enough to make the world better for most of us, there’s an opportunity for forward-thinking CEOs to step up and provide much-needed leadership.

“Business leaders must show a commitment to the long term, ideally inter-generationally, to build trust. That means genuinely adding value to the communities you operate in as well as playing a role in restoring the environment  upon which your business depends. It’s about ensuring both are at the centre of business models. It means being authentic in everything you do, living your values, and speaking up about what you care for.”

In New Zealand, the Readers Digest Trusted Brands survey announced the top New Zealand brands on 25 May. Topping the list was Whittaker’s for the seventh consecutive year. This is attributed to the company’s 122-year history, reliability for quality, integrity, innovation, local manufacturing and care for the environment.

The top 10 New Zealand trusted brands are:

  1. Whittaker’s (Confectionery category)
  2. Whittaker’s (New Zealand iconic brand category)
  3. Air New Zealand
  4. Canon
  5. Toyota
  6. Nikon
  7. Resene
  8. Tip Top (Ice Cream)
  9. Sleepyhead
  10. Dilmah