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Built on ethical business values

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The difference between a good company and a great company rests in its values, says Ann Rhoades, an Albuquerque-based, nationally known consultant to organizations that want to be great.

Rhoades advises companies, government agencies and nonprofit groups, first, “to define what you want to be. What would be the great state? Then ask yourself, what are the values and behaviors that will get you there? The good ones let it happen. The great ones make it happen.”

Once values become part of the organization’s DNA, she said, everyone in that organization knows how he or she has to behave if the organization is to get the results everyone wants, including owners, customers, employees and the community.

This year’s winners of the Samaritan Counseling Center’s New Mexico Ethics in Business Awards have demonstrated that values are built into their DNA, said Tom Antram, CEO of French Funerals and Cremations. He chaired the committee that selected six winners in four categories from among 31 nominees.


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What set the winners apart, Antram said, is that “every single one of the recipients this year had a strong, outlined approach to how they view ethics in their organizations or in their personal code. Not only are they living it, but they have a thought pattern or process that drives their decision-making.”

The winners will be honored at a banquet April 23 beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Hotel Albuquerque. Rhoades is featured speaker.

Rhoades, author of the book “Built on Values,” is on the board of directors of JetBlue Airways, is former chief people officer of Southwest Airlines, and is PRES (person responsible for extraordinary service) at People Ink, a company she founded to help “leaders to build legendary people-centric cultures based on core values.”

Rhoades advised some of the award winners but took no part in judging the nominees.

Don Chalmers Ford

Don Chalmers Ford, one of three winners of the Rust Award for Excellence in Ethical Business Practice by a For-Profit Business, has spent years improving quality using the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award criteria with the help of Quality New Mexico, Antram said. That way they have produced “a process-driven matrix for their decision-making.”

“For 12 years we’ve been on this same track,” said Don Chalmers, owner of the company. “This is not for sissies. You have to really get committed.”

Chalmers never cared for the way traditional car dealerships operated. From the customer’s point of view, car-buying was often a stressful, confrontational experience.


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On the operational side, Chalmers said, if you ask a manager a question, the answer you get Monday might be different from the answer you get Tuesday, “and no one ever says, ‘I don’t know.'”

Chalmers Ford has created 300 processes to manage everything from how a car’s price is set to how an employee is trained. Every process has to be written and justified, and everyone affected by it has to be involved.

All of the company’s constituencies have to be satisfied, Chalmers said.

“The customer wants value for his money. Employees want a long-term job and opportunity and proper compensation. The community would like someone who earns a living from the community to give back to the community,” he said.

“I can’t stay in business unless we make a profit. We don’t deserve to make a profit if we don’t provide the customer with the kind of service that makes them happy.”

The Samaritan Counseling Center’s New Mexico Ethics in Business Awards

Ronald McDonald House Charities of New Mexico

Building a way to get good decisions made consistently also was a reason the Ronald McDonald House Charities of New Mexico won the Hopkins Award for Excellence in Ethical Practice by a Non-Profit Organization.

“Most not-for-profit organizations have values, but they don’t always have the crossover to decision-making,” Antram said. “Ronald McDonald House does.”

That leads to “a sustainable program going forward, regardless of who might be at the helm,” he said.

“We wanted to put down into writing what our values were and what the behaviors were that went along with those values,” said Executive Director Kristin Rortvedt. “When we have a difficult decision to make, we look at the behaviors we agreed upon. That makes it so much easier.”

Ronald McDonald programs include the well-known house that temporarily shelters families of hospitalized children and two-family rooms at the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital and Presbyterian Hospital.

“We focus on being a place of respite, comfort and relaxation so that families can find the strength to face the next day,” Rortvedt said.

The house has 30 rooms. Eight full-time and seven part-time employees work for the charities, along with 4,000 volunteers who helped out last year, including guest chefs who cook for families, people who answer phones, people who clean up, people who help run events.

“Whether it’s the clients we serve or the business side of the operation, everything goes back to looking at those values,” she said.

Heritage Home Healthcare & Hospice

Heritage Home Healthcare & Hospice, another for-profit winner, employs 1,600 people, about 75 percent of whom are full-time equivalents. Many of those workers spend their days in clients’ homes, often working with seriously ill people.

“Not only is the company values-based,” Antram said. “It is a company with strong decision-making. We were able to see behind the curtain and see the decision-making and values go all the way through” to all 1,600 people in the company.

Len Trainor, who has owned the company for 20 years along with his wife, Liz, said the values that make up the Heritage DNA are “caring, trust, ownership, one team and quality.”

“Each of those values has a definition,” he said. “Each of those values has select behaviors.”

The Trainors hired Rhoades to help them define values and identify the behaviors associated with those values. They organized meetings of vendors, nurses, physical therapists and office staff.

“We incorporated those values and behaviors into our interviewing process, into our performance management system and into our rewards and recognition programs,” he said. “That’s how the value system gets rooted into the culture and foundation of the company.”

The result is that whenever a home health aide needs to make a decision on the spot in a client’s home, the values guiding that decision are clear, so the decision is likely to be a good one.

Rio Grande Inc.

The third for-profit winner, Rio Grande Inc., is a 70-year-old company that supplies materials and equipment to the jewelry industry.

The company was purchased last year by the Richline Group, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway, but is still run by members of the Bell family, whose patriarch, Saul, founded the company.

Rio Grande employs 360 people.

“What we saw was an engagement with the employees and a buy-in by the employees to make good, strong, ethical decisions,” Antram said.

The company had an employee handbook with rules to be followed, said Executive Vice President Molly Bell.

“Our observation is that at times those rules don’t make sense in a given circumstance,” she said.

When the company was smaller, someone in need of guidance “could just holler across the building,” she said. But gradually Rio Grande managers realized they needed an “environment” based on values that “are core and universal, a touchstone for people to use.”

They came up with 15 principles that could be reduced to both sides of a business card, among them: Do what you agree to do; do not encroach on other people or their property; create an environment of trust; be open and honest; treat everyone with dignity and respect; consider everyone’s feelings and ideas equally.

Once the values were written down, Bell said, she and her brothers realized they had recorded the lessons their father, Saul, had taught them.

Baking those values into the DNA begins with hiring, she said.

“We hire very particularly. We really try to find a great match for our very participative environment. We believe people come not just to do a task. They come with a whole brain. They come with life experiences,” she said.

So Rio Grande built a structure “that makes it friendly and easy to let people share their perspectives,” Bell said.

Gary Tonjes

Gary Tonjes, president of Albuquerque Economic Development for 19 years, is this year’s winner of the PNM Award for Individual Excellence in Ethical Business Practice. It is given in honor of John Ackerman, a former PNM CEO and business ethics professor at the University of New Mexico.

“He’s in a role in the community that is high profile,” Antram said. “That can put him on polarized sides of the community, depending on who you talk to. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with him, Gary will do the right thing.”

AED helps promote Albuquerque as a good place for out-of-town businesses to locate and expand.

Tonjes is privy to highly sensitive and confidential information. He knows which land a company will have to buy when it moves to Albuquerque. He knows some of a company’s most important secrets, including how it plans to beat its competitors and how much money it expects its Albuquerque-based operations to make. He knows what state and local government is prepared to do to woo a business to the city.

Tonjes keeps those secrets. If he didn’t, no one would trust him or AED, and trust is everything when it comes to attracting new business.

“I’m sure it’s frustrating for many of those with whom we work because we can’t disclose all that they would like to have disclosed,” he said. “We can never have a breach from our organization.”

Everyone involved in a potential deal “has to have trust in us that what we communication is complete, accurate and factual,” he said.

That includes telling community leaders and a business looking for a home that their project “makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.”

Tonjes remembers one company that needed 4 million gallons of water a day to set up an operation that would employ 150 people.

“That was not an appropriate trade-off,” he said.

“Overall, we really have great relationships because there is such a recognition of the importance of what we’re doing,” Tonjes said. “There is an eagerness, a dedication, a commitment by different parties, different jurisdictions, different philosophies to work together to try to move the community forward.”

Jeff Diamond

Antram said attorney Jeff Diamond, winner of the Bill Daniels Award for Ethical Entrepreneurship, strives in his practice and in his community contributions “to hold the ethical plane that an attorney should.”

Diamond, a New Jersey native, bought a legal practice in Carlsbad 38 years ago. He now has offices in Roswell, Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Odessa and El Paso.

“I’m very proud that I’m a lawyer,” Diamond said. “You can do so much knowing the law and understanding the importance of getting redress through the system, for righting the wrongs and moving society forward.”

Diamond said he arrived in Carlsbad during an oil boom and felt like a new immigrant in America expecting to find gold in the streets. That boom went bust, but by then he had “deep roots in Carlsbad. I got to love the community.”

He expressed that love through service.

Diamond helped dismantle a failing mental-health agency and build a new one.

As a member of the Carlsbad Board of Education, he helped create programs to make Carlsbad teachers among the most qualified and best paid in the state.

He served on the City Council for eight years and worked to upgrade public infrastructure to accommodate oil-patch booms and the arrival of WIPP, the nuclear-waste storage project.

Using funds from the federal government to mitigate the impact of WIPP, Diamond helped create vocational trades training programs. He also has been regional board chairman of the Anti-Defamation League.

Diamond lost a son, Shannon, to melanoma, so he and his wife established a foundation to educate people about the disease.

Since Shannon ignored his mother’s warning to get a suspect mole treated until it was too late, the Diamonds chose as the foundation’s website address

The Samaritan Counseling Center’s New Mexico Ethics in Business Awards