To be truly hated, a company must alienate a large number of people. It may irritate consumers with bad customer service, upset employees by paying low wages, and disappoint Wall Street with underwhelming returns. For a small number of companies, such failures are intertwined. These companies managed to antagonize more than just one group and have become widely disliked.
The most hated companies have millions of customers. With such a large customer base, it is critical to keep employees happy in order to promote high-quality customer service. Poor job satisfaction among employees can lead to unsatisfied customers. McDonald’s and Walmart have risked alienating workers, and therefore also customers, by not adequately addressing protests against their employees’ low wages. While pay may be low enough to put some workers below the poverty line, executives at these companies often make millions. The total compensation of McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson, for example, was nearly $9.5 million in 2013 and nearly $13.8 million in 2012.
Layoffs, or even the prospect of layoffs, can also contribute to low employee morale. Sprint announced it would cut 2,000 jobs late last year. Workers at Comcast can reasonably expect layoffs should its planned merger with Time Warner Cable receives government approval.
Many of the most hated companies angered the public because of quality issues with their products.. Comcast has long been one of the worst companies in America in terms of customer service and satisfaction. Another example is the General Motors recall scandal. GM announced a recall in early 2014 due to faulty ignition switches in a number of its cars, now believed to have cost 42 people their lives. The company’s problems were compounded by the realization that it had known about the defect for over a decade.
Nothing harms the long-term reputation of a company in the eyes of investors more than a steep drop in its share price. In the past 12 months, shares of Sprint have fallen by more than 50%, as hopes for a tie-up with rival T-Mobile were dashed while the company had little success in retaining customers.
It is worth noting that some of the companies on the list may have performed very poorly by some measures but relatively well by others. A few of the most hated companies have had good stock performances. Others have relatively satisfied customers. All of these factors were taken into account in compiling the final list.
Several companies from last year list have improved their public perceptions enough to be removed from this year’s list. For example, J.C. Penney is in the midst of a modest turnaround. Abercrombie & Fitch’s controversial long-time CEO Michael Jeffries resigned last December. However, the retailer still has problems attracting teenage customers.
To identify the most hated companies in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a variety of metrics on customer service, employee satisfaction, and share price performance. We considered consumer surveys from a number of sources, including the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and Zogby Analytics. We also included employee satisfaction based on worker opinion scores recorded by Glassdoor.com. Finally, we reviewed management decisions and company policies that hurt a company’s public perception.
These are America’s most hated companies.
1. General Motors Company
General Motors spent much of 2014 on the defensive, as it had to deal with a number of serious recalls. In the most serious incident, the company disclosed an ignition switch defect that could cause a vehicle’s engine to stall and its airbags to fail while it was in motion. The defect triggered the recall of 2.6 million cars and has been linked to 42 deaths. The company reported it had recalled a total of 34 million cars for a number of defects and incurred more than $2.7 billion in recall-related costs in the first nine months of 2014.
The public fallout from this recall was enormous. GM set aside $400 million to cover damage claims for victims of the faulty ignition switches, while the U.S. Department of Transportation fined the company $35 million — the most it legally could. Even worse, GM employees had known about the defect as early as 2001. Reuters uncovered last April that the company avoided fixing the problem in 2005, despite the fact that replacement switches would have cost just 90 cents each. During the fallout, CEO Mary Barra told Congress, “I never want anyone associated with GM to forget what happened. I want this terrible experience permanently etched in our collective memories. This isn’t just another business challenge.”
2. Sony Corp
Sony had perhaps the most difficult holiday season of any company. News broke in November that the company’s film division, Sony Pictures Entertainment, had been hacked in response to one of its upcoming films, “The Interview.” The hackers, reportedly from North Korea, were offended by the movie’s portrayal of North Korea and its dictator Kim Jong-un. Among other information, the hackers leaked unreleased Sony movies, executive salary data, and personal email correspondence between major Hollywood figures. A number of these emails revealed petty disputes and derogatory comments about race from top figures at the company.
After being hacked — and after a number of major theaters said they would not show the movie — Sony initially decided not to release the film. However, it later reversed course, prodded by criticism from, among others, President Barack Obama. In addition to the debacle surrounding “The Interview,” Sony’s PlayStation Network was also hacked during the holiday season.
Sony’s problems have not been limited to hacking attacks. Sony has regularly reported annual losses for years, and restructuring announcements have become an almost annual event. So far, however, years of expensive restructuring initiatives have been unfruitful. The company’s smartphone division has also taken a hit, with Sony’s smartphones losing market share while failing to sell profitably. Sony shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange have declined more than 30% in the past five years, even as American and Japanese stocks have rallied significantly, with the S&P 500 up approximately 80% in that time.
3. DISH Network Corp
More than 20% of respondents on the Zogby Analytics survey rated DISH Network poorly, one of the highest percentages of any company reviewed. Also, DISH Network has fared worse than most companies on the ACSI in recent years, albeit in an industry that largely received extremely low ratings.
In the wake of heated and ongoing contract negotiations between DISH Network and Fox, DISH customers can no longer watch Fox News or business channels. The blackout has likely had a negative impact on DISH’s customer satisfaction, at least among Fox News viewers who subscribe to DISH. This is hardly the first carriage dispute for DISH in recent years. Other such disputes resulted in long blackouts of AMC Networks and Turner Networks, as well as a brief outage of CBS-owned channels.
Customers are not the company’s only critics. Past and present DISH employees gave the company an average score of just 2.7 out of 5 on Glassdoor.com, with employees frequently disapproving of upper management.
For the rest of the list, please go to 24/7WallStreet.com.