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Church Hill Classics
Contact: Katie Gargano
594 Pepper Street
Monroe, CT 06468
Lucie Voves, President of Church Hill Classics, talks about how ethics builds good business.
This article originally appeared in the October 23rd, 2006 edition of the New Haven Register.
More than 1,000 companies from Canada, the United States and Mexico were competing for the annual Council of Better Business Bureaus' distinction of most honest most ethical enterprise. What chance did a small business hatched by me and my husband in the basement of our home in Newtown fifteen years ago---have of winning?
This past week, my business was chosen as one of four International Torch Award recipients. Within the same 24 hour period, the Hartford Courant business news section carried four stories about bad corporate conduct. (The headlines were: "Former Executives Indicted...", "Report: H-P Mulled Spying on Newsrooms", "AP:FTC Yet To Pay ChoicePoint Victims", "Educator's Work Exposes Business Scandal".)
These breaking stories were more of what appears to be a multitude of other corporate mis-deeds or executive greed which occupies a significant portion of our news space---about everyone from Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco), to Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom) who just entered prison, to two recent CEO's of sizable public companies who are now hiding out as fugitives in remote parts of the world.
In the days following the presentation ceremony, I began to wonder about what was in it for a number of these executives and their employees to either engage in or tolerate work environments that were lacking in ethics and honesty. Then, what about the customers who had relationships with those enterprises? Did any viewers stop watching Martha Stewart's cooking shows because of her stock market transgressions? Did anyone terminate Adelphia cable services because of what they discovered about John Rigas? Does anyone really care about whether businesses are most honest, most ethical?
Yes, striving to be an operation that is most honest, most ethical in some ways is an extra financial sacrifice. There must be an orientation with all employees about truthfully administering sales and customer service. For example, it often means taking extra time and care to fulfill an order the proper way. (And the need to be upfront and square over an occasional flaw or screw-up.) It means being clear and direct when describing our sales policies, even if it means foregoing an order or a relationship.
As an employer, it means working in the trenches with my staff...avoiding the temptation to be elitist and remote. It means ranking compensation in a realistic way that is fair and proportionate to all of my workers. Most importantly, it means that I must lead by example -- gaining loyalty by giving loyalty; earning trust by giving trust; expecting professionalism by being professional; and creating a powerful organization by empowering my team. An honest, ethical approach has brought strong value to my business.
Although we are a relatively small, unknown business---when we approach institutions where we hope to have a partnership, word-of-mouth and a reputation of integrity are our strongest invisible sales tools. Similarly, when prospective customers encounter us---without any knowledge about why they should trust us with their payments, our character as an organization and our reputation makes or breaks us.
As a society, we have been programmed to expect dishonesty and a lack of ethics---buyer beware! As individuals, we have become too dependent that government regulation, monitoring, and law enforcement as the backbone for strong ethics and honesty.
In transacting business, be it buying or selling, consider another perhaps more "old-fashioned" approach. Expect the personal touch, reward quality, and seek to build trust. As a business-owner, it's not such a hard thing to deliver. Any short-term consequences of training employees and building a culture that responds to its customers' needs pale in comparison to the challenges of fighting fires and the hidden consequences of an apathetic work climate.
We need a common sense moratorium: Where consumers expect more, reward excellence, and engage in a two-way dialog with businesses. In the spirit of mutual trust, share your expectations, and applaud when they are exceeded. When they are not, share your concerns, and seek resolution. Avoid the temptation to unreasonably complain or litigate at the first sign of what is perhaps, a human error or easily corrected flaw. By using our wallets to cast a vote in favor of businesses that operate with integrity, we can shift the focus to the positive side of the ethics scale--and maybe even open the door for government to loosen the net of burdensome regulation.
More businesses should recognize that job #1 is to focus on the basics of acting with conscience and exceeding customers' expectations--rather than merely trying to convince consumers to buy. Doing the right thing may not always pay instant dividends, but it is a long-term formula for success.