The Wall Street Journal earlier this week released its latest survey about corporate reputations, which put Microsoft at the top. This seemed a bit surprising, given all the venom that's generally spewed towards the company and its products, but the WSJ says that Microsoft's corporate reputation was enhanced by Bill Gates' personal philanthropy. We've wondered before just what these sort of surveys mean, and what their use is to businesses -- not to mention how well they really reflect public perception of and feelings about a company. But it's interesting to see that social responsibility, and executives' personal philanthropy in particular, is apparently bolstering how people view certain companies. This fits in to the discussion on the blog of a couple of University of Chicago professors last month, with one wondering if individuals like Gates or Warren Buffett deserve personal tax breaks for their charitable donations, since they polish their companies' images. The tax breaks for philanthropy are intended to serve as motivation for people, and there's little doubt that they help drive some rich people to give some money away. From that perspective, it seems short-sighted to argue that people like Bill Gates shouldn't get the same benefits as other people, since they have a company whose reputation could benefit by being associated with good works. Also, any standard for determining when a personal charitable gift benefits a company's image would be purely subjective, while you'd also be hard pressed to argue that it's possible for somebody like Gates to do philanthropic projects on a large scale without attracting much attention.
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