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Doing right is the foundation of these firms

The Rochester Business Ethics Award program has honored firms in the Rochester region that exemplify high standards of ethical behavior in their daily business practices and in response to challenges or crises. The program began locally in 2003.

Five finalists have been selected for the 2016 Rochester Business Ethics Award, now known as the Ethie, presented by the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation. The local Ethie award began as a program of the Society of Financial Service Professionals.

The recipients of the award are slated to be announced at an event on Oct. 17 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the newly renovated Geva Theatre Center.

Area companies are invited to enter the awards competition by clients, vendors, consultants, colleagues and employees. Each firm submits an entry with detailed documentation and evidence of policies and processes that address ethical issues, challenges and opportunities. A panel of judges chooses the finalists and award recipients based on those entries.

“Now in our 14th year of presenting the Ethie, we are delighted to see more and more businesses become involved in the program.  This represents the high ethical standards that exist throughout the Rochester business community,” said Vicki James, RABEF chairwoman.

The 2015 recipient in the large category was Heritage Christian Services Inc.  Nichols Construction Team received the Ethie in the small business category. 

The 2016 judges were James Bourdeau, partner at Nixon Peabody LLP; James Croop, founder and managing director of Bay Colony Capital LLC; Marisa Geitner, president and CEO, Heritage Christian Services; Daniel Hucko, corporate communications manager, Iberdrola USA Inc./Rochester Gas and Electric Corp.; Lynn Mucenski-Keck, associate professor, St. John Fisher College; and Ann Seigler, talent acquisition professional, Superior Plus Energy Services Inc.

An independent panel of judges analyzes the completed Ethie Award entry forms to determine the finalists, which then undergo a site visit by members of the judging committee.  The committee then names recipients of the annual awards.

The judges rate each company’s entry against published judging criteria organized along the following lines:

 executive commitment to business ethics;
 company ethics program;
 conflict resolution procedures;
 demonstration of sound ethical business practices; and
 demonstration of good corporate citizenship.

Organizational sponsors of RABEF’s Rochester Business Ethics Award competition are the Rochester Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and St. John Fisher College.

“As the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation moves toward its vision of making Rochester the gold standard for ethical cultures, it is encouraging to see quality companies submit entries for the Ethie Award. This year’s finalists join a roster of strong ethical companies that have been named finalists through the years,” said Alan Ziegler, RABEF’s co-founder and president.

Award recipients from competitions in Rochester and across the nation can enter a national competition, the American Business Ethics Awards. Four Rochester companies have received national honors: Midnight Janitorial Inc., Paetec Holding Corp., QED Technologies Inc. and Toddler’s Workshop Daycare.

The 2016 finalists are:

Hart Hearing Centers
Hart Hearing Centers owner and founder Stephen Hart has two roles—business owner and clinical audiologist—that factor into his approach to sound business ethics.

As a businessman, he said, he feels a commitment to conduct business honestly and to treat his employees fairly and as valued members of the company. He sees his ethical responsibility as a clinical audiologist to provide services with honesty and compassion and maintain a commitment to professional competence through continuing education.

“As the leader in our business, I need to lead by example in a strong ethical manner to our support and professional staff, our community and, most importantly, to our patients,” said Hart, whose 39-year-old audiology and hearing aid practice has five offices in Monroe County and employs three audiologists and nine support staff. “With that example, ethical behavior becomes ingrained in our business culture.”

Hart’s approach is to provide testing, counseling and rehabilitative services at a pace patients are comfortable with. This involves hiring audiologists who are patient-centered rather than sales-centered and regularly reviewing Hart Hearing Centers’ philosophy and recently implemented code of ethics, he said.

Hart Hearing Centers also promotes training and continuing education for its audiologists and encourages them to provide services through community-based programs to people who cannot afford them.

“There is only a 20 percent market penetration of those that receive hearing health care services,” Hart said. “That is not a good statistic when tens of millions of individuals have untreated hearing loss. As providers, it is our responsibility to reach out and provide help to those in need. Untreated hearing loss can cause social isolation, depression and can exacerbate other medical conditions, including dementia.”

“Treated hearing loss has been proven to improve job performance and socioeconomic status,” Hart added. “Some in our profession choose to operate as they always have, and others embrace change and look for ways to reach out to those in need. That can be accomplished by participating in programs that lesson the financial hurdle that many have. Some of these programs provide our services with minimal reimbursement but gives us the benefit of seeing lives changed.”

Leonard’s Express
Leonard’s Express Inc. has grown greatly since trucking industry veterans Kent and Patricia Johnson and their family set up shop in Farmington, Ontario County, as a transportation broker 15 years ago. Leonard’s Express has spread its operation to more than 20 locations across the country and has a fleet of 380 trucks and 600 trailers. It also is a transportation broker.

Company leaders feel a key to continue evolving and growing is to demonstrate an ethical commitment to their customers, vendors and employees. This includes showing their good corporate citizen side, such as being involved in a national public-private initiative, the National SmartWay Program, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution created by freight transportation companies.

Leonard’s Express has invested heavily in the latest equipment with a replacement cycle of every four years to ensure its fleet has the newest fuel-efficient trucks. The company also has added special auxiliary power units for drivers’ comfort to eliminate the need to keep trucks idling when not moving.  Leonard’s Express provides incentives to drivers—fuel bonuses based on idling time and fuel mileage. Last year, overall mileage per gallon increased 4 percent and idle time dropped 40 percent.

The company has taken steps to communicate its core business values with employees who are in offices out-of-state, as well as drivers out on the road who may only stop at the Farmington headquarters every couple of months. Leonard’s Express brings some employees to Farmington for annual meetings to discuss company and industry issues and holds quarterly meetings at terminals to discuss safety initiatives and provide driver training.

In addition, the company has launched an annual 26-week Leonard’s Leadership Academy for roughly a dozen employees and is implementing a video conference leadership program for employees in Farmington and out of town.

Leonard’s Express leaders said they have learned a lot about the industry and how to operate in an ethical manner as members of a trade organization for transportation brokers, the Transportation Intermediary Association. Leonard’s Express chief marketing officer Mike Riccio is the association’s treasurer.  

“We believe that when a company operates with strong ethical behavior, it allows for employees to grow as individuals and team members, therefore helping the company become successful,” said Leonard’s Express chief operating officer Kevin Johnson, one of 11 family members in the business, including his brother, CEO Kenneth Johnson. “When a company promotes a culture of integrity and respect, it makes the challenging times easier and the successful times more rewarding.”

Lewis Tree Service
Lewis Tree Service Inc.’s companywide focus on operating with a strong moral compass starts at the top. When Richard Alt was running the company, a review of time sheets once revealed that an employee who was out on disability was intentionally being charged to a job by a general foreman. Lewis Tree Service management disclosed the fraud to its customer, who would have never known otherwise. 

When Alt was ready to step down as president and CEO six years ago, he turned to a company executive, Thomas Rogers, as his successor based on Rogers’ history of integrity and shared values. Rogers once bid on a $1.4 million project that had several components, including one worth more than $200,000. Rogers miscalculated that aspect, which Lewis Tree Service ended up doing for far less. Rogers told the customer about the error and Lewis Tree Service gave back $100,000.

“This level of honesty built further trust and ensured the contract remained with LTS for another 15 years,” director of marketing Laura Ribas said. “And it became the bedrock of the critical, do-the­-right-thing mindset, support and associated behaviors that Tom and his team promote to this day. At LTS, our culture starts at the top and cascades throughout the organization.”

The Henrietta-based employee-owned company is one of the largest vegetation management services for public utilities in North America, with approximately 4,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada. It has taken steps in the last few years to enhance its stance on doing business the honorable way, including launching a hotline to report possible ethical misconduct.

Lewis Tree Service officials discovered a few years ago that the company was overbilling a customer because a general foreman was inflating the hours his crew worked. Rogers contacted the utility company president to disclose the violation and reimbursed the utility for the overcharge. The general foreman was fired.

Lewis Tree Service also fired a general foreman a few years ago despite concern it might cost the company a $10 million customer. The foreman, who allegedly was stealing from the company by abusing his company vehicle and card purchasing privileges, felt the utility would stop doing business with Lewis Tree Service if he were not on the job. The foreman was let go nevertheless. The utility understood the situation and is more pleased with the fired foreman’s replacement, company officials said.

Recently, a Lewis Tree Service customer began using a third party to pay its invoices and Lewis mistakenly started receiving double payments. The company returned the overpayments, the only contractor to do so.

“We understand that our business reputation is positively correlated to our brand and a key driver of repeat business,” Rogers said. “We’ve actively chosen to operate our business according to ethical standards, which requires well-defined performance expectations, full transparency and ongoing commitment. It’s who we are and we’re extremely proud of it.”

Tipping Point Communications
Tipping Point Communications Inc.’s leaders impress on employees the agency’s ethical expectations early and often. Management reviews the company’s standards with new hires and at monthly staff meetings. Tipping Point Communications employees also are encouraged to express ethical concerns internally, especially in weekly meetings with their supervisors or management team. 

The marketing agency’s top two leaders—CEO Michelle Ashby and President Barbara Pierce—have focused on creating a work environment and company culture that recognizes success and hard work.

Time is set aside at monthly account service team meetings for  “high fives,” with employees taking turns applauding and recognizing coworkers’ accomplishments in the workplace. Each quarter, Ashby and Pierce honor an employee who best demonstrates Tipping Point Communications’ core values by awarding the employee an extra vacation day, $100 and a prime parking spot.

The agency will turn down work if it encounters ethical differences with a client. If a client’s goals or means to achieve those goals do not align with Tipping Point Communications’ ethical compass, the agency will recommend ways to make the relationship work and, if need be, say “thanks, but no thanks” and move on.

“Tipping Point is in the business of helping build and protect our clients’ reputations,” Pierce said. “Our own reputation is built on doing the right thing, standing behind our work and being a true partner for our clients.” 

The agency at one point had a client, a developer, who was growing increasingly frustrated with local officials overseeing the approval process for a project. Tipping Point advised its client to take the high road and not respond emotionally to the elected officials. The client, however, was so incensed that he wanted to go after the officials through anonymous guerrilla marketing tactics. Tipping Point’s team said it would not participate in such tactics.

“We want clients and vendors to feel a true partnership with the Tipping Point team,” Ashby said. “We hold ourselves accountable to delivering on our core values in the work we do together: excellence and ownership, teamwork, integrity and trust, learning and sharing, and likability. If working with our people is the best part of our clients’ day, then we know we are making the right things happen for them and their business.”

Triplett Machine
Triplett Machine Inc.’s cost of doing business and remaining compliant and certified is high, and so are its standards. The Phelps, Ontario County, firm manufactures machine precision components for the commercial, military and aerospace industries. It has vigorous standards for its products, including no tolerance for cutting corners because of the potential for grave consequences, such as costing the life of an astronaut, airline passenger or soldier.

Triplett Machine employees are expected, in the event of an error, to inform customers and incur all costs, whether it be overnight shipping fees on a late item or the full cost of remaking nonconforming components because of an error on the company’s part or even on the part of an outside vendor, for which Triplett Machine always accepts responsibility.

“To the employees at Triplett Machine, business ethics means doing the right thing every time, even when doing the right thing hurts,” CEO Douglas Triplett Jr. said. “This behavior builds trust with people. No one has to guess what the right thing is. Team members know that they will be supported for doing the right thing and understand that taking shortcuts will not be tolerated.

“Doing the right thing permeates the culture, increases confidence and morale, while providing us stability and strength moving forward.”

Triplett Machine uses costly materials, and a seemingly minor mismeasurement of 1/1000th of an inch can turn a part worth thousands of dollars into a worthless piece of metal. When this happens, Triplett does not dock employees’ pay; instead it uses an exercise to find the root cause of the problem and fix it— asking “why” at least five times.

Triplett also has encouraged employees to learn more to earn more. The company posts  job descriptions of all skill levels and their wage ranges and will train employees interested in growing professionally and financially.

Triplett Machine is a family business. Triplett and his father, Douglas Sr., and brother Jeffrey started the company in 1984, and 10 family members are among the company’s 70 employees. Triplett Machine has aimed to build its culture around family values, company officials said. Allowing employees time off for a child’s dentist appointment or ball game is not only valid but expected.

Company officials say they take their responsibility to their employees seriously and have never instituted a layoff in 30 years, even when the economy was tanking.

Richard Zitrin is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

10/14/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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