The recent scandal where horse meat was being passed off as more palatable fare drew unfortunate attention to several leading food retailers and their processes. But the bigger issue was more about the customer feeling duped, and that if the retailer was prepared to mislead us about something so basic as food content, were we being had over a barrel in other areas too?

These days most businesses face stiff competition from others, and any uncertainty gives the consumer an opportunity to consider taking his money elsewhere, so reputations are fiercely guarded. And so those retailers’ reputations were at risk and in the aftermath, they had an uphill task ensuring they retained customers and encouraged a resurgence of confidence in their brand.

A prominent company car, van or lorry fleet gives the fleet manager and his management team plenty of opportunity for angst about reputational risk, even more so if the fleet is liveried. Accidents, speeding, smoking, littering, poor parking – any of these draw public attention to our company in a way we’d rather not.

Earlier today I watched a bus driver merrily texting as he drove a passenger-laden bus through the local High Street. Yes, I did report the incident to his company, and I reconsidered how safe I would feel putting my life in the hands of that company’s drivers, if they were prepared to so blatantly flout the law. Now I’m pretty certain the bus company management will be livid when they read my complaint, and the driver will be disciplined, but the damage to that company’s reputation was done the minute I – and no doubt others – saw the guy on his phone.

Recently we introduced a new paragraph to our company drivers’ policy. All cars must be left in gear when parked. This followed a spate of handbrake failures and runaway vehicles, from a mix of manufacturers and both old-fashioned cable and electronic handbrakes.

While we thoroughly investigated each incident individually, involved the manufacturers – with varying degrees of success – and even put a formal complaint to VOSA (which got us precisely nowhere) in the end my recommendation to management was that we adopt a belt and braces approach, and leave all cars parked in gear.

Management got the point instantly and supported the policy change. They understood the likely damage to our business reputation if one of our vehicles ran away and mowed down an innocent bystander.

Getting the drivers to understand the potential risk was harder. True, some of us always leave our cars parked in gear anyway, either because that’s what we were taught to do, or from previous unlucky experience. The more technically-minded drivers insisted that a handbrake should work sufficiently well to hold the car in any situation and naively expected the manufacturer to make sure it did. It was much harder to make them understand that it didn’t matter who was right, if someone got hurt both they and we were in serious trouble.

So I reckon that reputational risk should be incorporated as part of one’s driver training initiative, hammering it home even if it’s already been covered in a more general company induction. The “How’s My Driving” stickers are along the right lines, because they encourage people to drive professionally. Some of us also have paragraphs in our policy about expected driver behaviour, especially when using liveried vehicles – but do we really hammer home the reasoning that it’s about the necessity to protect our brand and that drivers matter, and can make a difference? Anyone for a veggie burger?