The Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation has narrowed its list of applicants down to seven finalists for the 2017 Ethie Award, with a diverse assemblage of local businesses, organizations and one governmental institution eligible for the grand prize.
First established in 2003, the goal of the Ethie is to celebrate local businesses and organizations that have created and maintained strong ethical guidelines for their clients, employees and customers.
If there is a theme for this year’s Ethie nominees, it centers on company culture, where ethical behavior doesn’t come from a policy, but from years of hard work. This became especially clear in separate conversations with each finalist, showing how they view ethics in the workplace as valuable, more important than expediency or potential profit.
For Holy Childhood, its commitment to ethical behavior is demonstrated every day, taking to heart its mission statement to “serve people of all ages, with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and give them the tools to succeed,” according to Donna Dedee.
Dedee, president and CEO of the nonprofit, is currently working on expanding the Special Touch Bakery, a program that will allow graduates of the group’s vocational training program to work with nondisabled employees. Dedee has an interest in maintaining the continuity of the group’s mission and values.
As a result, completing the RABEF application for the 2017 Ethies proved invaluable, showing the dedication of every worker. This became especially clear in interviews with RABEF representatives, who spoke to Holy Childhood’s workforce.
“We really didn’t prep anybody,” Dedee said of her workers. “We just said come in; would you talk to the (RABEF) committee and tell your story, tell our story. And it was incredibly touching and meaningful to me as the leader of this organization, without any prompting, to hear the words and the sentiment that were being expressed by people all across the organization.”
It made me a little emotional, to be honest with you.”
Dedee and her team are looking forward to the upcoming gala for the Ethie Awards, Oct. 2 at Geva Theatre Center. The event will give her a chance to be honored among all the “wonderful organizations, with tremendous leadership in this community,” which are competing for the same honor.
Michael Rizzolo, another finalist, is also looking forward to the upcoming gala, where he can, “be with people who seem to embrace value and want to celebrate” ethical behavior in the workplace.
For the president and CEO of Interpretek, the ability to practice sound ethics doesn’t stem from a book or from specific written criteria, but through continued, day-to-day experience.
“It’s just more interpersonal; it happens by doing.”
Interpretek first began in 1993, after Rizzolo had spent 12 years as a manager of Interpreting Services for Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.
“We started with: Send the best interpreter available and pay them on time, and something simple like that rang true with the consumers.”
Now with six offices in five states, Rizzolo is looking forward to celebrating the company’s 25th anniversary, with the Ethie nomination providing an excellent promotional opportunity. Even if they don’t win this year, he views the company ending up on the Ethie shortlist “as having already won.”
“We take away the affirmation that we’ve done well, that we’re doing the right thing. But I don’t think we’re done. The market keeps changing, the needs keep changing; we need to keep changing.”
When it comes to ethical behavior for Rizzolo, the first priority is to his employees. While he places a high value on providing cutting edge services to his customers and clients who require ASL interpreters, he also values a workplace where employees can approach him regarding a potential problem or mistake without worrying about retribution.
“You can’t really make a mistake that’s going to get you fired. That’s silly. If you make a mistake, I want you to learn from it, and then you’re going to be better the next day.”
There’s also a desire for maintaining a strong, effective relationship with the interpreters he hires, since many are independent contractors.
“I hire them, I want the best from them, they want the best from me. It’s a wonderful, mutual relationship. One can’t survive without the other, so you want to maximize it, not minimize it.”
Interpretek also tries to match up interpreters with the situation they are needed for, especially if there’s a requirement for specialized knowledge.
“So, when a request comes in, we don’t just say, ‘who’s available?’ We try to match up. So if it’s a medical request, does this person have medical training and background? If it’s a legal request, can they survive in a courtroom?”
For Rizzolo, the idea is be upfront conducting business, allowing Interpretek to cultivate a strong relationship with the community.
“It’s nice to garner good will from having done the right thing, being ethical,” he says, whether the company is working with employees, contractors or customers.
Garnering a strong reputation in the community is a trait shared by the partners of ProNexus, a Pittsford-based firm specializing in financial services consulting.
Founded in 2012, the goal was, according to Robert Pickering, senior executive vice president, to provide a different type of office culture.
“In our past life, in the Fortune 500, they had all the bells and whistles, they had the beautiful signs at the front doorway. They had the Code of Ethics in the handbook and they would talk about doing the right thing. But in the day-to-day, in the field, practical operations, it wasn’t happening.”
As a result, Pickering and his partner, co-founder and President Rafael Vidal, left their former companies behind to begin a financial and information technology consulting firm, one with a more local focus.
When conducting business in the area, ProNexus operates based on three principles. One of the principles is to “treat employees, our clients, our consultants, our strategic partners like family,” according to Vidal, who emphasizes how their previous employers were more interested in financial gain instead of treating employees fairly.
The second and third principles center on “giving back to the community which we live in,” according to Pickering, noting the importance of hiring locally and donating time to others.
“A good example is, we’re all encouraged to get involved in not-for-profits and volunteer work,” says Kate Kenney, a partner with the firm. Clear examples of its dedication to volunteering are the three senior partners: Kenney works with Bivona Child Advocacy Center, Vidal is on the Rochester Broadway Theatre League education committee and Pickering works with Family Autism Center.
As a result, ProNexus has cultivated a strong ethical culture, beginning with the leadership in headquarters to offices all over the state, whether in or out of the office.
Stantec also has a strong commitment to a vibrant ethical culture, both among co-workers and clients.
As one of the top 10 design firms, with 400 offices on six continents, Stantec prides itself on adhering to the customs and principles unique to each office. The Rochester branch of the architectural and engineering firm is no different, focusing on changing the environment around them for the better.
“As engineers and architects, our projects are really about making the communities we live and work in much better,” says Jim Hofman. “We really touch the lives of millions with all of our projects.”
With work stretching from the transformation of the East Inner Loop into a more pedestrian-friendly street, to providing a master plan for the Plymouth-Exchange Neighborhood, it’s clear that Stantec is “focused on the communities” and how to improve them for future generations.
While there is no shortage of work and opportunity in Rochester, Hofman, who is the principal of the Rochester branch, likes to ensure that every employee is aware of and follows Stantec’s Code of Business Ethics.
In order to ensure that a strong ethical culture is maintained, there is an annual training session for employees and each company meeting has an introduction covering two of the most prominent issues: safety and ethics.
“And we talk maybe 30 seconds to a minute. We may talk about some of our own ethics policies and procedures. We may look outside the company, or some things that maybe have happened in industry. Things that companies have done well, or some companies that had problems, and what led up to those problems, and we really try to learn from those.”
For Hofman, Stantec’s code boils down to one key point, which is to do what’s right. As a result, Hofman has empowered the firm’s workers, allowing them to “step back and ask themselves, ‘Is it the right decision?’”
Broccolo Tree and Lawn Care
For Laurie Broccolo, it’s clear the right decision for her company was to make it pesticide-free.
Beginning in 1990, Broccolo Tree and Lawn Care arose out of the experience accrued working for Ted Collins Tree and Landscape. Now, with two locations, multiple workers, several high profile local projects and various community partners, there is a desire to put into practice what she values most: diversity in the workplace.
For Broccolo, who has a degree from Finger Lakes Community College in Applied Science and Horticulture Conservation, the moment that crystallized how to approach the issue came about after a career talk for an area school. A student attending the event spoke up after her speech, stating how, “a lawn that’s all one color is boring.”
This statement got her thinking about her company’s culture, outlining two clear, specific goals to follow. The first principle is to get more women in the workforce, with a flexible work schedule giving employees time to rest in between the peak work season of April through June, in addition to paid vacation time.
The benefits and work cycles have proven effective for the company, with several employees still working for her after 25 years.
The second principle emphasizes diversity in environmentally friendly gardening and landscaping practices, demonstrating how all employees are “caretakers of the environment.”
“Most of the employees are tree-huggers,” Broccolo confesses, noting how they prefer saving trees to removing them, a common service among landscaping services, in addition to a refusal to use pesticides for lawn care.
As a first-time applicant for the Ethies, Broccolo is excited about being a finalist. For her and everyone at her company, the “timing for the nomination is a deep, personal sense of pride for all of us,” giving them a chance to spread and promote their principles.
Leonard’s Express is looking forward to the gala, as a way to promote its own principles to the rest of the Rochester business community.
Beginning in 2001, the business was formed by CEO Kenneth Johnson’s parents as a brokerage firm, connecting independent owners of semitrailer trucks to shipping companies lacking a privately owned fleet. Now with 21 offices in the country, Johnson is looking forward to celebrating what makes the company special.
With four generations of truckers working at the firm, a strong sense of family values pervades the company, given how much of the culture comes from his parents.
“It really comes up from my Mom and Dad, especially my Mom. She’s always gone by the principle, ‘we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it right,’” Johnson says, noting how, “it’s the way we built this company, and under that guiding principle that anything worth doing is worth doing it right.”
One specific way Leonard’s Express does the right thing is with the truckers they hire, working to make them feel more connected to the rest of the company through “two-way cellular communication,” according to Johnson.
“When you’re next to the person working every day you get to know them a little bit, but the drivers don’t have that, and we try to encourage all our people to engage in our driving population, in that manner.”
Good communication channels are essential to any workplace. However, these skills can be especially vital to governmental institutions, given their responsibility to the community as a whole. For Ontario County’s government, it’s clear that open communication with all of the different departments and agencies is one of the several core values they prize.
As the first governmental body to apply for the Ethies, Deputy County Administrator Brian Young admits it’s an unusual circumstance. According to Young, the idea first came from another member of the county administration seeing the ad for the Ethies in a local paper, suggesting they apply.
However, County Administrator Mary Krause “thought long and hard” about applying, only wanting to submit “if we have specific examples of us going above and beyond what’s expected.”
Fortunately, there were multiple examples to choose from, with the most prominent being a document outlining their vision, mission, core values and behaviors.
The document underwent a six-month planning process in addition to a leadership retreat, giving them plenty of time to determine what they wanted it to say. After soliciting feedback from department managers and union leaders, it was ratified by the county’s Board of Supervisors.
The spirit of open communication and clearly defining their own values is, for Krause, what government is all about, borrowing a quote from former President Bill Clinton.
“Nothing that’s wrong with county government can’t be fixed by what’s right with county government.”
Krause is excited to be shortlisted, but made clear how vital the application process was for everyone, giving them a chance to reflect on public service, and how to improve in the years ahead.
“I appreciated, and our team appreciated it, to reflect on where we’ve been, and what we can do to do even better in the future.”
Beginning in 2003, the Rochester Business Ethics Award program, overseen by the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation, has honored firms in the Rochester region that have exemplified high standards of ethical behavior in their daily business practices and in response to challenges or crises.
An independent panel of judges carefully and impartially analyzes Ethie Award entry forms to determine the finalists, which then undergo a site visit by a member of the judging committee.
Ethie Awards celebration: 4 to 8 p.m., Monday, Oct. 2 at Geva Theatre Center. To purchase tickets: www.RochesterBusinessEthics.com
Last year’s winners: Tipping Point Communications, Lewis Tree Services and Triplett Machine Co.
Patrick Harney is a Rochester-area freelance writer.