ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The employees at Heads Up Landscape Contractors and John Moore & Associates financial planning do very different work, but they have at least one thing in common: weekly meetings where they discuss core ethical values.
The owners of each company believe strongly that having a set of guiding principles and talking about them regularly is one of the ways they can ensure their businesses are conducted in an ethical manner.
And that is part of why they were chosen as the two for-profit company winners of this year’s 18th annual New Mexico Ethics in Business Awards. Other winners are Crossroads for Women; Chet Stewart, an owner of French Funerals & Cremations; and Thomas Broderick, managing principal of tax and accounting firm BPW&C.
The Samaritan Counseling Center of Albuquerque will honor all five recipients at an April 26 banquet at Hotel Albuquerque. New Mexico Bank & Trust, the
Albuquerque Journal and the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management are sponsors of the event.
The awards program raises awareness of the importance of ethical business practices and brings in money to support Samaritan in providing professional mental health counseling, mediation, psychological testing, financial literacy, education and outreach programs in English and Spanish.
“The idea of promoting ethical practices is really important,” said Ernest Rodriguez-Naaz, Samaritan’s resource development director. “It recognizes on a deep level the connection between ethical behavior and the physical, psychological and spiritual health of our community.”
Rodriguez-Naaz said employment practices and workplace conditions also impact mental health.
This year, 28 finalists nominated from the community went through a lengthy selection process. Business ethics students from the Anderson School interviewed each of the finalists and prepared a written report, which was then reviewed by an independent selection committee made up of volunteer community leaders.
The selection committee used those reports and also met with the nominees before deciding on the winners.
“It’s a pleasure for the committee to read 28 reports from students about companies and individuals in New Mexico doing things the right way,” said Eric Weinstein, resident managing director of Aon Risk Solutions and chairman of the selection committee. “They’re all great, and they’re all doing things differently.”
Weinstein said the winners stand as examples of the kinds of practices others in the community should emulate.
The Jack and Donna Rust Award for Excellence in Ethical Business Practice by a for-profit business went to two longtime Albuquerque businesses this year.
Gary Mallory started Heads Up Landscaping with a partner in 1973 and has grown the company to about 300 employees who design, install, and maintain commercial and residential landscapes.
John Moore’s financial planning firm is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month and now manages about $450 million on behalf of its clients.
Mallory cites the firm’s commitment to environmental stewardship as one aspect of its ethical standards. Heads Up promotes low-water-use landscaping and separates green waste from trash for composting, diverting 13 million pounds of waste from the landfill in the past five years.
Mallory said business and financial ethics also are important. He once returned a client’s accidental $1.1 million check, even though they had an overdue balance of $100,000, makes charitable work in the community a part of doing business for the company and the employees, and submits himself to regular drug testing.
“If my guys have to, I have to,” he said.
On the personal side, Mallory recently implemented a “fundamentals of the week” program. Weekly meetings begin with a discussion of one of the firm’s 31 core values, and employees share examples of that principle in action. Fundamental No. 1 is “Do the right thing always,” and it directs people to tell the truth, own up to mistakes and make them right, and “be impeccable with your word.”
Ethical dilemmas are an opportunity to think deeply, Mallory said, because “it’s not always immediately obvious what the right thing to do is.”
Moore has a similar outlook and hopes the 10 core values his leadership team developed are helping to encourage ethical practices. Each week, an employee takes one value – say generosity or integrity and the need to be absolutely honest – and discusses how he or she practices it.
“They’re meant to be principles, not rules,” he said, adding that they can help with tough decisions. “Everyone on our team should be empowered to make decisions without having to consult me or another management person.”
In fact, John Moore & Associates is a values-based investment business, basing all of its advice on biblical values. There are 2,250 passages in the Bible that dictate how to make financial decisions, and they are timeless and they work, Moore said.
Like Mallory, Moore encourages his employees to be engaged in civic endeavors. He also has put finances aside to do the right thing, taking large losses in some cases to right a wrong.
“There have been some situations where we made a clerical error,” Moore said. “It would have been possible to just ignore it, but we couldn’t do that.”
Moore, a former Air Force “Top Gun” instructor and test pilot, also has taught business strategy based on the Top Gun values of not cutting corners and the willingness to sacrifice everything for the good of others and for the right reasons.
Crossroads for Women, which serves women who are impacted by homelessness or incarceration, and who have both mental and addictive disorders, was chosen for the Paul and Ladonna Hopkins nonprofit award. Programs include housing and behavioral health and substance abuse services.
Crossroads easily makes the grade on the technical aspects of ethical measures. The organization has passed financial audits with no adverse findings and recently scored an unusual 100 percent on a state Behavioral Health Services Division audit of its clinical practices.
That’s all fine and good, says Executive Director KC Quirk, but what really makes Crossroads an exceptionally ethical nonprofit is its client-driven model, which ensures the organization is fulfilling its mission by giving women the help they need.
“There’s this unique dynamic that happens here,” she said.
An active client advisory board informs decisions at Crossroads, providing feedback about what works for them and what other programs should be emphasized, said Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Gardner.
Recently, clients said the nonprofit needed an outreach program for women involved in street-level prostitution. Crossroads wrote a grant with client input and now has an employee who goes out to Central Avenue to reach out to women in need, Gardner said.
Crossroads also takes clients to the state Legislature to talk to policymakers each year and hosts open houses where officials can talk directly with clients. In that way, the women become engaged citizens while educating others.
That approach also won over the ethics award reviewers. The “magic started when they met with clients” and truly began to understand the needs Crossroads is addressing, Gardener said.
Chet Stewart took over French Funerals & Cremations from his grandfather in 1966 at the age of 24 and now is chairman emeritus of the firm. He is the winner of the PNM Award for Individual Excellence in Ethical Business Practice.
“I’m a great believer in servant leadership,” Stewart said. “They need to know that you’re there to help them become as successful as they can be. I believe that creates an organization of trust and respect … that carries on to the customer.”
Stewart is a believer in transparency and started a company practice that allows any employee to question any action that has even the perception of a lack of integrity.
“Employees and those in the community consistently point to Chet as the epitome of transparency and ethical practices,” French Chairman Duffy Swan wrote in nominating Stewart, who has served on the boards of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the Anderson School, the Kirtland Partnership Committee and others.
Stewart recalled a time when the business was selling a piece of land. A person called and said he was interested, but would be out of town and wanted to complete the deal when he returned. Stewart agreed and stayed true to his word, even when another potential buyer offered $100,000 more. Another time, around 1970, he was hiring a new embalmer/funeral director and the best candidate was a woman. Women were rare in the profession then and his employees were skeptical. “I caught a lot of flak about it until she came in and proved herself,” he said.
“If you look at ethics as you look at the Golden Rule – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – for each decision, it kind of helps you to focus on what’s important,” Stewart said.
Young Leadership category
This year’s Ethical Young Leadership award goes to Thomas Broderick, an Albuquerque native who turns 40 this month.
Broderick started his career in Milwaukee but returned home in 2001 to work with his father at BPW&C, which provides tax, assurance, accounting and management advisory services. He took over after his father retired five years later and now oversees a staff of about 30 while also working actively with clients on tax services. He is a past chairman of the New Mexico Society of CPAs and is the youngest board member ever for the Council for the American Institute of CPAs.
Like other honorees, he is a big believer in transparency and regular team meetings where ethics is one of the topics.
“We decided the staff needed a venue where they could talk to me directly,” he said, adding that the monthly brown-bag lunches also give him a chance to answer questions that are submitted anonymously.
In the accounting world, ethics go hand in hand with trust because clients turn over sensitive matters to the firm. Tax accountants regularly face the challenge of helping clients minimize the taxes they pay while also playing by the rules, Broderick said.
“We have to protect our clients and we have to follow the law,” he said. “That’s a balancing act we talk about all the time within the firm.”
At BPW&C, ethics is a mindset rather than a goal measured by results.
“Like any other business, we’re results-oriented to a certain extent, but it’s OK to make an ethical decision that costs the firm some money,” Broderick said.