ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sometimes it takes a long-range view to see the financial sense in making ethical business choices. Turning down a big job, resisting the temptation to take credit for someone else’s work and opting not to expand programs can be tough decisions.
The winners of this year’s New Mexico Ethics in Business Awards have learned that making those difficult choices pays off in the long run, both in the bottom line and in terms of reputation.
The Samaritan Counseling Center of Albuquerque will honor the recipients of its 17th annual awards at an April 27 banquet at Hotel Albuquerque. Douglas M. Brown, former dean of the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management, will give the keynote address. New Mexico Bank Trust, the Albuquerque Journal
and the Anderson School are gold sponsors of the event.
The awards program raises awareness of the importance of ethical business practices and helps bring in funds to support Samaritan in providing psychological counseling, financial literacy training and other programs for families and children, as well as an endowed scholarship at the Anderson School.
“It’s really important that we tell those positive stories,” said Sarah Lee, Samaritan’s president and CEO. “Treating others the way you want to be treated is a lot of what ethics in business is about.”
The selection process is lengthy. Twenty-six nominees from the community were evaluated by business ethics students from the Anderson School as part of a semesterlong research project.
“They’re looking for something more than philanthropy, writing a big check, something more than being a great place to work,” said Professor Sarah D. Smith, adding that the students interviewed the nominees, and asked them about how they have handled ethical dilemmas in the past and what structures they have in place.
An independent selection committee then used reports from the UNM students as it selected the winners.
“The winners of the award demonstrated a strong sense of personal ethics that helped guide them with their decisions on a daily basis,” said Chris J. Padilla, senior manager of Ethics Advisory & Investigative Services at Sandia National Laboratories and chairman of the selection committee. “They were faced with difficult dilemmas, but their commitment to having the courage to make the difficult decisions and ensuring they were doing the ‘right thing’ set them apart.”
Two long-standing creative businesses in Albuquerque are this year’s winners of the Jack and Donna Rust Award for for-profit business: Dekker/Perich/Sabatini architects and advertising agency McKee Wallwork & Co.
Transparency and openness are key at Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, an acclaimed Albuquerque firm that has designed ABQ Uptown, office buildings, hospitals, the Albuquerque Convention Center face-lift and more. The company also provides planning and engineering services.
In their building, even the principles are out on the work floor, not in private offices.
“You live it, show by example,” said Bill Sabatini. “It’s all about living the golden rule, doing what’s right, not necessarily what’s easy.”
The firm honors the confidentiality of its clients, never misrepresents the work it’s done and turns down projects for which it is not qualified.
“A guiding principle is always work within the scope of our expertise,” said Dale Dekker. “You’ve got to say what you’re going to do, and then you’ve got to do it (on time and on budget).”
The company’s employee manual stresses personal responsibility, integrity and the firm’s other values, including giving back to the community.
“The principles in this firm had great mentors in design, but we also had strong families that taught us the importance of being honest and (having) integrity in all we do,” Dekker said, adding that the firm had its start in 1959 when his father, Art, founded an architectural firm in Albuquerque.
For the three principles of McKee Wallwork & Co. – Steve McKee, Pat Wallwork and Jonathan Lewis – ethics are a critical component of their business success, McKee said.
In its 19 years in business, the award-winning firm has built a base of long-term
clients and a reputation for integrity. McKee Wallwork has created a unique niche serving stalled and stale brands, and now employs 24 people with such diverse clients as International Paper and the New Mexico Department of Health.
With a high-profile and a national presence come some responsibility and some ethical challenges. In addition, advertising agencies occupy a position in society as influencers of culture, a role the company does not take lightly.
“We have a responsibility to be careful,” Lewis said, adding that, for example, some companies have become known for objectifying women in their marketing campaigns, but “that’s just a place we’re not willing to go.”
Another challenge involves the client money that flows through the firm to pay for such things as newspaper or billboard advertising spots. Some agencies have temporarily used that money for other purposes, but not McKee Wallwork.
“Never, ever, ever would we touch that,” McKee said.
“I like to sleep well at night, and the way to do that is to do the right things during the day,” Wallwork added.
The NDI New Mexico, the National Dance Institute, is the recipient of the Paul and Ladonna Hopkins nonprofit award.
The program uses dance to teach children four core ideals: work hard, do their best, never give up and be healthy. This year, 9,500 kids in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and 20 other New Mexico communities will take NDI classes, said Executive Director Russell Baker.
“We believe children in New Mexico deserve opportunities and need access to high-quality programs,” he said.
NDI offers free outreach programs at elementary schools that have a high percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, as well as intensive programs at rural schools, and after-school and summer classes with a sliding tuition scale that starts at $1 a class.
A key to NDI’s long-standing success has been its commitment to long-term relationships, such as its 19-year tenure teaching classes at Eubank Elementary. Although there are 100 schools on the program waiting list, Baker said the staff won’t expand until they know they will be able to sustain new programs.
When facing such decisions, the staff and board look to their mission and core values of social responsibility, excellence, sustainability and financial integrity.
They also ask themselves, “How do we approach doing more in a way that we can remain committed?” Baker said.
The recipient of the PNM Award for Individual Excellence is Diane Harrison Ogawa, executive director of the PNM Resources Foundation. Fittingly, the award is given in
honor of John Ackerman, who happened to be Ogawa’s first mentor at PNM 16 years ago.
Ogawa said she learned some of her first lessons in ethics around the dinner table when her family said grace and asked God to help them “be true in all we think and say and do.”
She has carried that ethic into her business life. Although PNM has codes of ethics and values, Ogawa adds three more values that she expects the people she hires to follow: honesty, loyalty and cheerfulness.
The PNM Resources Foundation is an endowed fund that invests in communities. Ogawa also is director of community relations for PNM and oversees its corporate responsibility efforts.
“I have the incredible luxury of being able to invest PNM’s charitable dollars,” she said. “I have a job that allows me to engage in the community in a way that makes my heart grow.”
Ogawa’s family also instilled in her a tradition of community involvement that doesn’t stop at her job. She cofounded the Center for Non-Profit Excellence, helped start the New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger and has been a chair of the Women in Philanthropy Council of United Way of Central New Mexico, the Albuquerque Community Foundation, the CNM Foundation and the Center for Philanthropic Partnerships.
“All of the things I’ve been fortunate enough to do in this state have happened because I’ve collaborated with others,” Ogawa said, emphasizing the value of teamwork in her accomplishments. I’ve been lucky to be at the table. And, many times, I’ve loved bringing people to the table.”
Young Leadership category
Grant Taylor, winner of the ethics award in the Youth Leadership category, took a financially insolvent Hobbs Chamber of Commerce and turned it around, introducing a new business ethics program along the way.
After five years as president and CEO of the chamber, Taylor has left the position and will be starting March 14 as the director of communications and marketing for the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry in Albuquerque.
While in Hobbs, he emphasized the Character Counts! program by subscribing to the Josephson Institute of Ethics, bringing movement founder Michael Josephson to be the keynote speaker of the chamber’s 2011 annual banquet and in 2014 mailing a copy of the book “Making Ethical Decisions” to each of the chamber’s approximately 450 members. The chamber also will kick off what it hopes will become an annual, three-day Ethics in Business workshop this April.
The Character Counts! program “made it possible to share a culture of ethics in a much bigger way,” Taylor said. “It allows any organization to speak in the same language.”
Taylor tackled some ethical questions himself while at the Hobbs chamber. First off, he decided not to hide the organization’s financial troubles from its members, but to go through the rebuilding process with transparency, spelling out the problems and solutions in the newsletter, phone calls and personal visits.
He also made the tough decision to end a lucrative contract that the chamber had to act as bookkeeper for lodger’s tax payments for the city of Hobbs. Because the chamber is among the organizations that receive money from the fund, Taylor felt the contract presented a conflict of interest.
“I am absolutely a believer in the maxim that good ethics is good business,” he said.