Way back in the late 1980s, the country was in the midst of what would come to be called the Savings and Loan (S&Ls) Crisis where eventually nearly 750 of the country’s 3,234 S&Ls would fail and cost the nation’s taxpayers some $88 billion. It was a particularly ominous scandal for Colorado as one of the more prominent failures in that crisis was that of Colorado’s own Silverado Savings and Loan, which collapsed in 1988 and cost taxpayers $1.3 billion. Among the more notable businesspeople embroiled in the scandal was Neil Bush, a Silverado director and son of then–vice president of the United States, George H. W. Bush. At about the same time, 1989, the “Father of Cable Television,” entrepreneurial Denver millionaire Bill Daniels, donated some $11 million to the business school at the University of Denver (DU) to create an ethics boot camp and ethics curriculum that set the school on a leadership path for corporate social responsibility throughout the nation. A few years later, DU would name its business school the Daniels College of Business, bestowing on itself a moniker that had for years stood for the highest level of integrity in business and philanthropy.
That these two events, both of which rocked the Colorado business community, happened virtually simultaneously was more than a mere coincidence for what was to come. One spoke directly to the need for elevating the discussion and education of business ethics, while the other was a pure example of business ethics in practice.
“Ethical business practices are essential in the financial services industry. The trust and credibility that is built up as a result of treating clients, employees, and fellow professionals ethically, is the key component in our ability to start, maintain, and grow a thriving, sustainable financial services practice. On the other hand, we have all seen and experienced, over and over again within the past decade, the devastating consequences of failures to act ethically,” says Greg C. Anderson, CLU, ChFC, CFP, CASL, a financial adviser with the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network and the Colorado Ethics in Business Alliance (CEBA) board immediate past president and assistant secretary.
It was in this atmosphere, one clouded by scandal with a ray of hope shining through, that CEBA was started in 1990. Originally called “Ethics and Business—The Colorado Corporate Responsibility Awards,” the initial goal was to establish an annual nomination, investigation, selection and awards program to honor Colorado companies, businesspeople and nonprofit organizations for the highest standards of ethical conduct in business. Right from the start, the aim was to show that businesses and businesspeople could do well by doing good, that ethical business practices, rather than being anathema to profit, were part and parcel of the success of Colorado business.
In the early 1990s, there was only one similar program in the country, the national American Business Ethics Award, founded in 1982 by the Foundation for Financial Service Professionals. “Ethics in Business—The Colorado Corporate Responsibility Awards” was the second business ethics recognition process in the country and the first on a regional or statewide basis. Since then, CEBA has been joined by hundreds of other such awards given annually by local chambers of commerce, Better Business Bureaus, as well as local and national business and professional organizations and societies all across the nation. The Colorado effort, kicked off with the first awards given in spring 1991, remains the largest business ethics awards program in the country.
Carrie Rossman, foundation director at the Better Business Bureau serving northern Colorado and Wyoming and CEBA director, says, "Making ethical choices in any business situation is the major step in pursuing excellence both as an enterprise and personally.”
And, none of this would have happened in Colorado without Bill Daniels. Daniels was one of the chief proponents and practitioners of ethical business practices at the time—at any time. His varied business career made him an extremely wealthy man, and his business and philanthropic endeavors set a high mark for corporate social responsibility activities.
So, in 1989, three men—Rev. R. J. Ross, the founder of the Samaritan Institute, an international network of faith-based counseling centers enabling an approach that combines “mind, body, spirit and community”; Dr. Bruce Hutton, a longtime professor at the Daniels College of Business who was the school’s dean in 1989; and Jeff Rundles, a veteran Colorado business journalist who was editor of Colorado Business Magazine (now ColoradoBIZ) at the founding—decided that honoring the DU-Daniels connection, and giving the Silverado debacle some distance and perspective by creating an awards program to spotlight the ethical business behavior among Colorado businesses and business people was a meaningful endeavor.
The three founders conceived the idea of an Ethics in Business awards program and sought out the guidance of Daniels before moving forward. Not only was the ethical icon enthusiastic about the concept, on the spot he wrote the first check to get it started. He then directed his staff at Daniels & Associates to take part in the process and to offer as much help as needed.
Now, more than 20 years and many awards programs later, CEBA has grown into a powerful alliance of business, nonprofit and educational interests dedicated “to advance ethics in business through conversation, practice, and understanding for the benefit of the workplace, the marketplace and our community.” Says Alex Chernushin, director of programs at Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation and CEBA director, “Surrounding yourself with those who support your ethical choices professionally leads to easier decisions and new-found support in difficult choices."
CEBA’s board of directors is 20 strong, drawing its leadership from every walk of professional and business life, as well as key people from nonprofit groups, professional and business trade associations, colleges and universities, and the media. In addition, the CEBA Leadership Council has another 20 Denver and Colorado business and community leaders drawn from every discipline who meet regularly to discuss ethics and to offer advice and counsel to the CEBA board and community.
In 1996, CEBA was strengthened and its mission expanded when the Rotary Clubs of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Financial Planners became long-term sustaining sponsors in the organization—relationships that remain today. With their help and guidance, CEBA has expanded its original mission of recognizing businesses and businesspeople at an annual awards banquet to now conducting an Ethics in Leadership Series, an offering of some seven events throughout the year with notable speakers, with many of the sessions featuring continuing education credits to such professions as law, accounting and financial planning.
Many great professional organizations emphasize ethics and character in conducting the business of their professions, and CEBA has always aimed to elevate that emphasis to an interdisciplinary discussion with and to the business and civic communities at large. “Ethics is the embodiment of everything that is good and right in life,” argues David Goldberg, an attorney at Greenberg Traurig and CEBA leadership council member. He goes on: “Ethics encompasses truth, integrity and virtue necessary to maintain a civilized society.”
During the past 25 years, CEBA has grown to become the principal “backbone” of a broad alliance of collaborators, to recognize and promote ethical business throughout the state. CEBA provides the essential infrastructure to bridge, if you will, Wall Street, main street and academia.
CEBA’s three major constituencies include:
- Business—help grow a company's revenue and its community engagement through ethical programs.
- Civic and nonprofit organizations—help civic and nonprofit organizations deliver ethical service programs that raise the quality of life in communities.
- Educational institutions—help educational institutions develop future leaders through collaboration and learning in business and personal life.
At its founding more than 20 years ago, one of the goals established for CEBA was to provide a forum for the discussion of ethics and ethical business and civic practices, and to embrace young people studying for their careers in business in the discussion. The broad cross-section of award winners over the years from every type of business and enterprise, and from every corner of the state, stand as testament to the promise of “doing well by doing good.” Jim Nottingham, an attorney with Berenbaum Weinshienk PC and a CEBA director, declares, “Ethical conduct is an investment that pays dividends by way of satisfied customers, fulfilled employees, improved bottom lines and personal happiness. Doing the ‘right’ thing has a profound ripple effect that transcends and transforms.”
But obviously, much work still needs to be done. Following the Silverado Savings debacle, people were fined and/or went to prison, commissions were formed, congressional investigations ensued, laws were changed, and everyone from every corner of the country decried the obvious ethical breaches and vowed to stop them from ever occurring again.
Since then, we have had Phar-Mor, Enron, Bernard Madoff and numerous national and local Ponzi schemes, the Dot-Com bubble, Qwest, Tyco, and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis—the list is nearly endless, and with each new case, the audacity threshold is raised a few bars.
The Colorado Ethics in Business Alliance—conceived in the crucible of ethical breaches and inspired by Bill Daniels, a true gentleman who defined integrity—is poised to carry on the important work ahead.
“Without fail, the local and national companies I have worked with over the years who strive to treat their employees, their customers and all their stakeholders with the highest levels of integrity, respect and proactive consideration, are the ones who weather the bad times and have the higher levels of financial success and employee retention when good times return,” said Ron Ausmus, principal and founder of Integrity Associates, the CEBA board director and speakers’ bureau chair. “Tough times reveal the strength of the ethical infrastructure and organizational culture built by the founders and maintained by the keepers of the flame."
Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and works with the Unleaded Group. Peter Feather is the executive director at CEBA. To learn more, visit www.ceba.org.