Omaha business leaders talked about ethical issues they have faced during their careers in a series of “ethical lessons” interviews for the Omaha Business Ethics Alliance at Creighton University.
The leaders interviewed by Creighton business students are recipients of Integrity Awards from the Better Business Bureau of Omaha, members of the Omaha Business Hall of Fame and trustees of the ethics alliance. There is a link to the full interviews at www.businessethicsalliance.org. Excerpts from the interviews:
Ray Bruegman, president, Miller Electric Co.
We had a customer that was experiencing power quality issues. We had originally wired the building they were in, and although they were not one of our long-term clients, they came back to us to find out why and what was causing the issue. After many weeks of chasing “ghosts” we discovered a circulating ground current was causing premature failure of the electronics and, in a couple of cases, an outage to the building. The ground current was a result of an improperly bonded switchboard. ... Finally I had my (project manager) go out there to say, “Look, we screwed this up, we're willing to fix it, we're not going to charge you for the work we have invested in the whole thing, plus, we'll schedule the outage and get this thing fixed the way it should have been done the first time,” which we did, and everything was fine.
Ruth Henrichs, president and CEO, Lutheran Family Services
People will call me and say, “Ruth, my son, or daughter, or grandson, or granddaughter is graduating, has a degree, and would like to work with kids. I was just wondering if you would interview them and if there would be a job for them at LFS.” Maybe this person is a donor or maybe this person is on an advisory committee or whatever. When this happens, I am always very clear with people. ... One of our values is integrity and I am not going to hire you because you are someone's child or friend. I am going to hire you only if you are the right candidate, with the right set of skills, for the position that I have available.
Roger Baumgart, CEO, Home Instead Senior Care
We had one of our top-performing entities that was not operating their business in the way that we knew we wanted our businesses run. ... It would have been easy for us to say, “OK, we'll make an exception this time, and we won't take the action that we would with somebody else because of who you are.” This was a very difficult decision that we made. It was the right decision, but it had a very high price tag from a productivity and revenue standpoint for the short-term. ... There are certain times when you have to take the right action based on their behavior and performance, regardless of the financial performance. That was the case, and we took action to provide new ownership to that entity.
Gerry Phelan, owner, Midwest Woodworkers
With an elderly customer some time back, Phelan said, it became apparent a man needed a saw for only one project and had no previous experience with table saws. Instead of selling the man a tool he really didn't need and could potentially hurt himself with, Phelan cut the pieces for the man himself. Although he lost a sale, he felt he did what was ethical and honest.
Michael Fahey, chairman, Omaha Community Foundation, and former mayor of Omaha
When I was serving as the Omaha City Planning Board chairman, we had a development come before the board that was a new large shopping center. The day we were to make the decision regarding the shopping center, my salesman at my title insurance company came in and was so excited because he had just secured the title order on this shopping center. I had to tell him that although it was great that he was able to get the deal done, we weren't going to be able to do it, because it was a big conflict of interest for me. Now, telling the customer wasn't really a big issue for me, but telling the salesman was a lot harder because he lost his commission on that deal. I couldn't vote to approve the project and then take the order to insure it, because it wouldn't have been right.
Gail DeBoer, president and CEO, SAC Federal Credit Union
In the past few years ... there were financial institutions bending a lot of rules which in turn contributed to the overall economic crisis. Loans made to people who did not have the ability to repay them and not providing proper documentation were clearly a couple of unethical situations that occurred. ... It was not fair to the people given the loan and it was not fair to the people bundling those loans.
Tony Wiese, production manager, B Street Collision Center
Because car accidents can do a lot of unexpected damage to a car, it is possible to miss something the first time around. If this is the case, we are happy to take a second look to make sure we have done everything we can to ensure the car is back to its original shape as closely as possible and the owner is happy with the product. ... One of the biggest challenges is educating employees about our core principles, company direction and business goals, and ensuring they have the resources to put them into practice, making them second nature, so to speak.
Jim Nagengast, CEO and president, Securities America Financial Corp.
A former employee of Securities America was caught stealing money from the company. The leadership team recognized that if they pressed charges against the employee there would likely be press coverage of the situation, which could potentially reflect negatively on Securities America. They also knew that it would not be right to quietly let the employee go without pressing charges, as the next employer of the employee would likely have to deal with the situation. Nagengast and the rest of the leadership team chose to press charges and allow due process to run its course.
Mike McMeekin, president, Lamp, Rynearson & Associates Inc.
We did surveying work on a major bridge project several years ago and one of our surveyors made an error. ... We had a series of piers, but he made a mistake in the calculation of one of the piers. It was built in the wrong place, and they brought out the girder, which is supposed to span between the piers, and it didn't fit. There were a series of investigations that came about and we were involved in that. It was clear to us that we made the mistake. The unethical choice is we could have tried to point fingers back at the contractor to say, “Well, you did it wrong, you shouldn't have done this, you should have checked it,” but it was clearly our error. We ended up having to pay the price of one of these bridge girders, which ended up being in the neighborhood of $100,000. ... It was a clear ethical decision. We elected to not try to avoid the blame.
Linda Lovgren, founder and president, Lovgren Marketing
A high-level employee (at a new office) ... was able to “steal” one of the major clients. Even though there were other employees in the office, the loss of the major client caused (her) to shut down the office. She offered the other staff members a transition or to help them locate another job in the area.
Bill Cutler, director, Heafey, Heafey, Hoffman, Dworak & Cutler Mortuaries
An old woman, with no family to speak of, comes to the mortuary, picks out everything for the funeral, including a pricey casket to be interred in. Both the customer and the mortuary know that there will be no family or significant witnesses at the service, but the mortuary sees it as a point of honor and honesty that they provide the customer with what was charged for, as a source of professional pride.
Mark Garner, owner, and Chelsie Schmitz, manager, Searl Auto Body
A repeat customer ... purposely placed loose change and valuables in his car in some obvious and some not-so-obvious places, such as under a floor mat. Searl's policy ... is that anything in the car belongs to the customer, whether they know it is there or not. After the customer picked up his car, he came into the office to tell Mark that Searl had passed his test; all of the belongings had been put into a bag and set in the cup holder, down to the penny.
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