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The right thing to do

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do even when it’s a tough choice.

Jennifer Riordan, vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo, received the Ethics in Business Award in the Young Leader category. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Jennifer Riordan, vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo, received the Ethics in Business Award in the Young Leader category. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

That’s the common refrain from the five recipients of this year’s Samaritan Counseling Ethics in Business Awards, who emerged from a field of 26 nominees after a long and rigorous selection process.

Teams of students from the UNM Anderson School of Management shone a spotlight on each nominee, interviewing them and scrutinizing their decision-making processes as part of a semester-long course on ethics. They then reported their findings to an independent volunteer committee that made the final selections.

“They (the students) are told to dive as deep as they possibly can and ask probing questions,” said Tom Antram, president and CEO of French Funerals and Cremations. He was chair of the committee that selected the winners.

Those who received the award demonstrated a consistent commitment to making tough choices, Antram said, facing dilemmas and gray areas that might not present a clear-cut alternative between right and wrong, but which could affect the quality and integrity of how business is conducted on a daily basis. “To me, that’s the core of the thrust of what ethical practice has to be. It’s not a one-time instance. It’s repeated practice over and over again,” Antram said.

This is the 16th year that the Samaritan Counseling Center of Albuquerque has bestowed the awards. They cover four areas; for-profit business, nonprofit or not-for-profit, individual and young leadership. The latter category was new this year.

The recipients will be honored at a banquet on April 29 at Hotel Albuquerque. Proceeds from the banquet help support ethics in business and the Counseling Center’s work in providing psychological counseling, financial literacy training, and other programs for families and children.

For-Profit category

The recipients of the Jack and Donna Rust Award for Excellence in Ethical Business Practice by a For-Profit business are a household name pizza chain and a car dealership with a novel concept that focuses on helping people keep their old cars running instead of rushing to buy new ones.

ReCARnation started in the late 1990s under a different name selling low-cost, second-hand cars. Marc Powell, its president, took over in 2010 and noticed a large number of vehicles the business sold being repossessed. A typical customer is a low-income young single mom.

That spurred a new direction: developing a repair and financing model that gives owners the option to extend the lives of their cars rather than ties them to a hefty down payment and years of debt on a replacement vehicle.

“This created a new avenue for keeping people mobile in the most cost-effective way and environmentally sensitive way,” Powell said.

His workforce of 25 face ethical challenges daily. In one example, an angry customer bought a truck and returned it with a blown engine. It was unclear whether the problem stemmed from the dealership or the way the customer drove the vehicle, Powell said. The decision on how to respond fell to a young employee who had been with the company only a short time. He told the customer ReCARnation would replace the engine.

“Totally the right call. He did the right thing for our client,” Powell said, “It made me so proud because it was clear he was living by our principles.”

Those principles stress transparency, truthfulness and commitment to improvement.

Dion’s Pizza, the other for-profit winner, was founded in 1978 and now has 1,300 full- and part-time employees, and 20 restaurants in New Mexico, Texas and Colorado.

“In everything we do, we start with simple concepts – our vision and values cornerstones,” said CEO Mark Herman.

The vision is far reaching: to be the most admired regional restaurant brand in the country. The values: great food; fast, friendly services; clean comfortable stores; exceptional people; and shared growth.

“We hire and train employees to the values,” Herman said, “We talk about what fast, friendly service is, and isn’t, and how it shows up in daily work. We understand and trust employees because we all have a foundation in the same type of thinking.”

Herman said the UNM students who interviewed him asked about Dion’s dress code, questioning whether Dion’s practice of not having employees with visible tattoos was ethical. “We feel that, if we are truthful to who we are and consistent with that, then it’s fair and ethical. If we make random exceptions, that’s not ethical,” Herman said.

Nonprofit category

Central New Mexico Community College is the 2015 recipient of the Paul and Ladonna Hopkins Award for

Kathy Winograd holds an ethics discussion with senior leadership at Central New Mexico Community College. CNM received the award in the nonprofit category. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Kathy Winograd holds an ethics discussion with senior leadership at Central New Mexico Community College. CNM received the award in the nonprofit category. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Excellence in Ethical Practice by an Non-Profit. College President Kathie Winograd said the recognition reflected an institutional commitment to a higher calling.

“It’s this place where people are so committed to figuring out how to make people’s lives better through education,” Winograd said.

Working in a public institution, she said, CNM staffers face constant challenges interacting with students, parents, businesses and state officials.

A book called “Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West” by James P. Owen forms an integral part of senior staff training. It lists 10 key precepts, including “Live each day with courage”; “Take pride in your work”; “When you make a promise, keep it”; and “Be tough, but fair.”

Winograd believes the faculty and staff see the institution as playing a key role in the economic recovery of the state. “We see people come in convinced that education is difficult. Then they have this light shine over their head and all of a sudden they become the best kid in the class,” she said, “I think this (CNM) is the kind of place where people find educators who are committed to them being successful.”

Young Leadership category

The Bill Daniels Award for Ethical Young Leadership went to Jennifer Riordan, vice president of community relations at Wells Fargo bank. The Daniels Foundation previously sponsored the award for Ethical Entrepreneurship.

Riordan’s goal is to exhibit integrity in her roles as a professional, a mother of young children and a member of several boards.

“As a parent, I’ve said to my kids, ‘Be kind, loving, caring and sharing, and all good things will come to you,'” Riordan said, “Integrity embodies the spirit of those four things, as well as high morals. It’s about knowing the difference between right and wrong, and choosing to do what’s right, even when it’s very difficult to do what’s right.”

Riordan said that when she is volunteering on a board of directors and gets a request for funding from Wells Fargo, she removes herself from the process. She gives the request to the committee at the bank that reviews all grant requests and allocates funding.

“So that it’s not me making the decision on the board’s behalf. That would be a conflict of interest,” Riordan said.

She has had many difficult choices to make, both in her volunteer work and professional life – sometimes choices that could have had political or professional and personal ramifications.

“Often it was a tough choice, but they were easy choices. That’s what integrity embodies for me,” Riordan said.

Individual category

Elaine Solimon, community relations director for ARCA, received the PNM Award for Individual Excellence in

ARCA Community Relations Director Elaine Solimon was the winner of the Ethics in Business Award in the Individual category. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ARCA Community Relations Director Elaine Solimon was the winner of the Ethics in Business Award in the Individual category. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Ethical Business Practice.

ARCA, a nonprofit, provides care and employment for more than 600 adults with developmental disabilities. Solimon has been with ARCA for 30 years and was its CEO from around 1997 to 2011.

“I feel it’s really important to make the right decision at the right time for the right reasons,” Solimon said, “It’s hugely important in our field because we work with very vulnerable individuals that may not be able to have a voice, so we rely on people that are supporting them to make sound decisions all the time.”

When she became CEO, she and staffers developed a core message for their organization that included as goals: service excellence, personal growth, integrity, respect, inclusion and teamwork.

Solimon credits her father for her ethical values. “He was a man of his word. If he made a promise, he did everything in his power to deliver in a way that honored the relationship he had with the customer,” Solimon said, “I feel I have that same (work ethic) in my DNA.”

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