Almost two years after the chief executive of British Gas was pilloried for his porcine pay rise by having a porker named after him, bosses have recognised that they have to pay more attention to public perceptions, according to MORI pollster Bob Worcester.
The latest edition of MORI's survey of Britain's top bosses shows they place much more emphasis on quality of products and services, image and reputation and the treatment of customers than previously.
Asked which factors they used to judge companies, 20 per cent more business leaders picked these three categories than did in a similar poll last year.
In contrast, the ability to manage change (a euphemism for laying off staff) and to implement new strategies (selling bits of the business) both fell in the ranking, with 8 per cent fewer chairmen, chief executives and managing directors saying they were important.
Mr Worcester said the dramatic change in emphasis on image-related areas was a result of the worsening public perception of British Gas and other privatised utilities over the last two years. "They're going to get better, and if they don't get better they'll pretend to," he said.
The poll of 131 executives taken between October and December also found that competition is an increasing problem for UK companies. Since 1993, the percentage of respondents citing it has risen steadily from 19 per cent to 33 per cent.
Concern over European Union policies also leapt, although from a small basis, probably as a result of fears that Britain might not join in monetary union.
Surprisingly, perhaps, controlling costs and the prices of raw materials were less of a problem this year than last.