The “18 Most Hated Companies in America” and Their Philanthropy

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October 13, 2011; Source: Business InsiderThe corporate social responsibility sites might rank some corporations high, but consumers often rank them low or lower, notwithstanding their philanthropic largesse.  Here is a list of the 18 “most hated” U.S. corporations and how some of them stack up on corporate social responsibility lists, and you’ll see that the companies with low CSR rankings (discernable because they don’t even make the lists of the top 50 or top 100) correlate pretty strongly with corporations ranked as “hated” by Business Insider. 

The 18 most hated corporations according to Business Insider are well known, some household teeth-gnashing names that are also pretty huge companies, big enough for slots on the Fortune 500


Rank among “18 Most Hated Companies in America”

Rank in Fortune 500 (2011)







Time Warner Cable






Charter Communications



US Airways



United Airlines



American Airlines









Long Island Power Authority



LA Department of Water & Power



AT&T Mobility



JP Morgan Chase



Pacific Gas and Electric



Cox Communications



Dish Network



Bank of America



No surprise, but the “most hated” companies don’t make the lists of rankings of socially responsible corporations nor show a lot of philanthropic intent:

These are generally behemoth corporations that have plenty of financial wherewithal to be philanthropic.  A little philanthropy won’t kill them.  For the most part, the 18“most hated”—hated, that is, generally by consumers and the communities they serve—don’t rank high in overall corporate social responsibility or in philanthropic grantmaking through corporate foundations. 

It would seem—by correlation, not causation—that socially responsible companies seem to be philanthropically minded.  Certainly, as we showed with AT&T, some measure of corporate philanthropy, even through corporate foundations, comes with an implicit and occasionally explicit expectation of nonprofit grant recipient support. 

Nonetheless, corporations that tend to be philanthropic don’t end up much on the most hated companies list.  The practice of philanthropy, no matter how corporate-strategic, does have a beneficial side effect of making corporations more socially responsible, more responsive to their customers, and generally less likely to top “most hated” lists. 

Now, when did Comcast say the repairman was coming by—for the nth time—to fix my cable TV?—Rick Cohen


  • pamela mcgrath

    I am not sure how efective it is to list “most hated” companies. We have a classic example of how a lack of civil discourse can paralize the goernment process by looking to the Washington dolts. What has happened to us?! 😡

  • Rachel Leventon

    I think Mr. Cohen is making a pretty spurious connection between these organization’s lack of philanthropy and “most hated” status. Just to me, it looks like the most hated organizations are those with large direct consumer bases that frequently utilize customer service. I’m not sure that any amount of philanthropy on the part of a cable or airline company is going to prevent customers from “hating” them if the cable is out (or too expensive) or the flight is delayed.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Rachel: thanks for your comment. Do note that I said correlation, not causation, but remember, the big corporations with foundations are also typically those with large consumer bases–the banks, the retailers (WalMart), the utilities, the pharmaceuticals, etc. There’s a reason why they go philanthropic. I’ve always been struck by the big corporations that don’t have much interaction with large consumer bases (think Halliburton) whose philanthropy is kind of inconsequential given their size. And do note that the recent CRA challenge to Capital One included a critique not only of the bank’s inadequate lending, but its inadequate philanthropy. Thanks for your note.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Pamela: Good point, but do remember, this list came from a business organization/publication (Business Insider), which is why I was struck by it. I know I’ve seen lists of corporations that are weak in their social responsibility (by the numbers, falling short on CSR indices) and lists of corporations that are weak on other factors (environmental sensitivity, corporate ethics, etc.). Maybe the term “hated” is the trigger for your comment, but there are corporations whose slippage below the norms and expectations of quality consumer service and decent corporate citizenship merit a need to be called out–sometimes by their shareholders as well as by magazines such as Business Insider. Thanks again for your input.

  • regina birdsell

    It seems to me that corporate America should pay attention to who their customers are. It is great to invest in communities and the nonprofit organizations that serve our citizens. That is a valuable investment and we all benefit. But you can’t ignore the added benefit of satisfied customers. That is a home run.

  • Jim Racheff

    Thanks for the article Rick; an interesting follow-on question might be “Why are they hated?” I can see where some of the companies on the list may be “hated” because of poor customer service while others (say someone like Enron) may be disliked as a result of illegal or unethical corporate behavior (or a combination of several factors).

  • David Williams

    Interesting stuff, Rick. Does the inverse mirror this correlation? Meaning, do we see high CSR ratings among corporations most admired by consumers?

  • rick cohen

    Interesting question, David. More broadly, the question is whether corporate social responsibility behavior really counts positively on a corporation’s bottom line. That stuff is debated pro and con in the Wall Street Journal all the time. The advocate for the “pro” side is the Cone research group which has issued voluminous reports about CSR, including consumer appreciation of corporate initiatives, as counting positively on the bottom line and showing up in consumer behavior. There’s a lot of research accessible on that you can examine and see what you think. Thanks for the question.

  • rick cohen

    Hi Jim: This list looked like it was much focused on poor customer service and poor product delivery, not on unethical or illegal corporate behavior. Some of the big corporate felons I would have expected to see on the list weren’t there, so it seems (and the descriptions by Business Insider indicate) that the focus is on corporate/consumer relationships. Thanks for the question.

  • bigturtle

    If the public knew what goes on at the inside of AT&T, the company would be destroyed within weeks.