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Reputations and corruption: Bell Pottinger in South Africa

Albert Wöcke (Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Johannesburg, South Africa)
Morris Mthombeni (Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, Johannesburg, South Africa)
Alvaro Cuervo-Cazurro (D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University, Shenyang, Liaoning, South Africa)

Emerald Emerging Markets Case Studies

ISSN: 2045-0621

Publication date: 3 December 2020


Learning outcomes

The case can be used in strategic management, international business or ethics courses. In strategic management courses, students will be able to identify political relationships as sources of a firm’s competitive advantage. Students will also understand the role of ethics in the firm’s competitive advantage. In international business courses, the students will be able to analyze the role that corruption and bribery play in the analysis of a country’s institutions. Students will also understand how corruption in a host country influences a firms’ decision to internationalize. Finally, students will understand the challenges that firms face when serving customers in other countries. In ethics courses, students will understand the nature of state/business corruption, i.e. the abuse of public office for private gain and the concept of state capture, i.e. managers controlling the political system for their advantage. Students will be able to analyze the decision of whether to collaborate with unethical partners or customers.

Case overview/synopsis

Bell Pottinger Private (BPP) was a British public relations (PR) firm with a successful but questionable reputation of helping famous critical figures and despots improve their public image. In 2016, Lord Tim Bell and the other leaders of BPP were asked to create a PR campaign for the Gupta family. The Guptas were a group of businessmen headed by three brothers who migrated from India to South Africa in the early 1990s. By the 2010s, they had built a business empire allegedly thanks to a corrupt relationship with the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma and his family. The press and prosecutors were increasing their investigations on these relations. The case has two parts, which address two separate challenges and can be taught as standalone cases or in a sequence in two sessions.

Complexity academic level

MBA and Executive Education.

Supplementary materials

Teaching notes are available for educators only.

Subject code

CSS 5: International business.



Disclaimer. This case is written solely for educational purposes and is not intended to represent successful or unsuccessful managerial decision-making. The authors may have disguised names; financial and other recognisable information to protect confidentiality.


Wöcke, A., Mthombeni, M. and Cuervo-Cazurro, A. (2020), "Reputations and corruption: Bell Pottinger in South Africa", Emerald Emerging Markets Case Studies, Vol. 10 No. 4.



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