Three months ago, BP managed to do what some thought was impossible. No, I’m not talking about the possibility that they’ve single-handedly destroyed the entire Gulf Coast, although that is pretty impressive in its own right. Rather, BP successfully unseated Goldman Sachs as the most hated company in the America.
At the time, Goldman was under fire from consumers and lawmakers for deceiving investors and betting against the housing market. Americans took to the streets to protest what they saw as greed and insensitivity from Goldman and other Wall Street institutions and Rolling Stone published a lengthy piece explaining how Goldman was responsible for pretty much all U.S. economic crises during the past decade. Then, on April 20, one of BP’s oil well exploded and blotted out all of the Goldman headlines. Suddenly, America had a new public enemy #1.
As the Wall Street Journal noted last month, “To be sure, Goldman’s reputation has been tarnished… But that can’t compete with the images of oil drenched pelicans and the underwater geyser that keeps spewing and spewing.”
While it’s easy to lash out against big businesses for the mistakes they’ve made, it does have an unfortunate side effect. What happens to all the employees who work at these companies in positions that have little or nothing to do with the controversies at hand? There are stories of Goldman employees cowering at their desks, too scared to even go out for lunch in the daytime. BP employees are careful to shed any clothes bearing the company logo when out in public. And last year, when AIG was the subject of public outrage over the bailout and subsequent bonuses, employees feared for their lives after receiving death threats.
Of course, this level of public outrage is usually short-lived, but in the long term, being associated with a company that has been the subject of a scandal of this magnitude could affect your ability to find work elsewhere. “There has been a century of corporate scandals in this country,” said Matthew Rothenberg, editor-in-chief of TheLadders, a career site focusing on senior-level professionals. “But the situation can be a personal opportunity if you can navigate it properly and weather the storm.” We asked Rothenberg for a few tips on how to make this happen.