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Award winners share devotion to ethics

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Most businesses understand what ethical behavior means, and most appreciate that good ethics and business success go hand in hand, said R. Randall Royster, president of the Albuquerque Community Foundation.

That’s what makes the job of selecting the state’s most deserving businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals as winners of the Samaritan Counseling Center’s New Mexico Ethics in Business awards so challenging and rewarding, he said. Royster is a member of the committee that selects the honorees.

The winners will be honored May 1 at a banquet at Hotel Albuquerque. Tickets can be purchased on line at www.ethicsinbusinessnm.com or by calling 842-5300.

To be honored this year are:

⋄  Kirtland Federal Credit Union and TLC Plumbing & Utility, winners of the Rust Award for excellence in ethical business practice.

David R. Seely, president and CEO of Kirtland Federal Credit Union, poses for a portrait in a vault last week. (PAT VASQUEZ-CUNNINGHAM/JOURNAL)

David R. Seely, president and CEO of Kirtland Federal Credit Union, poses for a portrait in a vault last week. (PAT VASQUEZ-CUNNINGHAM/JOURNAL)

⋄  Southwest Creations Collaborative, winner of the Hopkins Award for excellence in ethical practice by a nonprofit organization.

⋄  Kurt E. Gass of Roswell, winner of the PNM Award for individual excellence in ethical business practice, given in honor of John Ackerman, former PNM executive and professor of ethics at the University of New Mexico Anderson School of Management.

⋄  Gene Hinkle of Albuquerque, winner of the Bill Daniels Award for ethical entrepreneurship.

“What sets them apart is how they are serving their community, delivering products and taking care of customers,” Royster said.

Kirtland Federal Credit Union President David Seely says the secret is creating processes that define, encourage, monitor and correct behavior. “It all has to be process-driven,” he said. “You have to have something in place to create an ethical culture and reinforce it constantly. You can’t just put a plaque of your core values on the wall.”

All new hires receive a two-hour lesson about the Kirtland Federal Credit Union mission, vision and core values from Seely himself. “I tell them it’s important to build trust with each other and with the customers. No one is going to use us if they don’t trust us.”

Kirtland provides safe and, if the employee chooses, anonymous ways for staff to report ethical violations or seek ethics guidance. The board of directors has a code of behavior that forbids members from making decisions that further their own interests.

Staff receive regular ethics training. Organization values, ranging from citizenship to trustworthiness, are discussed every week at staff meetings.

The credit union has had to fire a couple of senior executives over the years for lying, which at Kirtland means they demonstrated they couldn’t be trusted.

“That same standard applies to me,” he said. “If I did something so that I couldn’t be trusted any more, I’d expect to be terminated.”

TLC Plumbing & Utility owner Dale Armstrong, a 2013 Ethics in Business winner. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/journal)

TLC Plumbing & Utility owner Dale Armstrong, a 2013 Ethics in Business winner. (Pat Vasquez-Cunningham/journal)

TLC Plumbing & Utility makes decisions that are right for employees and customers, even if the bottom line suffers, Royster said. “They fund a training program. Even when times were hard financially for the company, they were standing behind that rather than leaving people out in the cold.”

“Not focusing on money is important,” said TLC owner Dale Armstrong. “Focusing on money can drive people in the wrong direction. We have to be profitable, but we don’t have to be too profitable.”

“We focus a lot on our employees,” he said. “The employees are the key to our services. We stress to them that it’s the things they do every single day, by living up to the core values of the company, that create that next phone call from a customer.”

Armstrong said his understanding of values was drummed into him by his parents when he was growing up near Quemado. “It’s simple. It’s just following the path of good and doing that consistently. There is no secret business model or anything else. It’s treating others as you want to be treated.”

For Southwest Creations Collaborative the core of its program is a contract manufacturing operation, which is expected to generate $1.3 million in revenue this year. Among its clients are Jonathan Adler, Designers Guild and máXimo.

Those customers “aren’t (just) driven by supporting us as a mission,” said Executive Director Susan Matteucci. “We offer competitive pricing and good service.”

Matteucci describes Southwest Creations Collaborative as a social enterprise “that operates in the marketplace with a double bottom line. You take the profits you are making and reinvest them in well-being of our employees and their families.”

Southwest Creations provides not only income for 35 people, it provides a way for women to invest in their children. It provides day care for 25 cents an hour. It offers its employees classes to earn GEDs, to learn English and to obtain citizenship. It is collaborating with Albuquerque Public Schools to expand its own successful program designed to help at-risk families get their children through high school.

Employees of Southwest Creations Collaborative with Executive Director Susan Matteucci. (DEAN HANSON/JOURNAL)

Employees of Southwest Creations Collaborative with Executive Director Susan Matteucci. (DEAN HANSON/JOURNAL)

“We’re finding that if we work with the whole family, we have a 98 percent graduate rate among employees’ children,” Matteucci said. Of those kids, 85 percent are in college or university.

Kurt E. Gass says he grew up in a really small, rural town in Minnesota. “We didn’t have hardly enough food to feed the family. We were very poor, but I never knew it. The reason was my parents always taught us the quality-of-life moments you have are going to be when you’re helping other people,” he said. “They taught us we were so blessed, we should pass those blessings on.”

After graduating from college, severe allergies prompted Gass to move to Artesia. His business degree helped him land good jobs with growing companies. Whenever a company got too large or was about to break through to the big time, Gass would leave. “I’d rather not be in the corporate world,” he said. “I’d rather help people.”

He manages the Roswell branch of Prime Source Mortgage. He and his wife opened a franchise assisted living facility called Bee Hive Homes. And they own Spectrum Consulting, which helps people in foreclosure keep their homes and people “who can’t traditionally afford or buy a home” get into a home.

He helped start Grace Community Church 15 years ago. He helped organize Harvest Ministries, which will serve 40,000 meals this month in the Roswell area.

“There are three things that are important: faith, family and friends,” Gass said. “The bottom line isn’t important to me. What’s important is affecting people’s lives for the good.”

A phalanx of TLC Plumbing employees pose together surrounded by company trucks in 2011. (courtesy of TLC Plumbing)

A phalanx of TLC Plumbing employees pose together surrounded by company trucks in 2011. (courtesy of TLC Plumbing)

Gene Hinkle has done business in New Mexico for 60 years. His name hangs on the sign of an amusement park, the Hinkle Family Fun Center, but he says his job from the beginning has been real-estate investment, development and management.

“I was born and raised on a farm way out in the Ozarks,” Hinkle said. “I lived so far out in the sticks they had to pipe sunlight to me. I had never been in a city with more than 1,000 people until I was 15 years old. My ethic was work,” Hinkle said.

“You get up at daylight, do the chores, milk the cows, slop the hogs, feed the chickens, separate the milk to make butter. Then you walk a couple of miles to school, come home and repeat the process seven days a week. It builds character. You learn to work, you learn responsibilities, you learn how to get through life one day at a time.”

He came to New Mexico to be with the woman who would become his wife. She was attending UNM.

“It took me a month to find my first job,” Hinkle said. “So 10 or 12 years after that I started Albuquerque Economic Development to bring new jobs to the community. I knew if we continued on the course of nothing happening in that area it would be a bad future for a lot of people.”

Among his many civic activities has been membership on the Wells Fargo Bank board and the chairmanship of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

Ethics award winners share a common dedication to values-based business practices

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