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Wanted: A good dose of ethics

Do ethics and successful businesses mix?

Absolutely. Just ask Terry Miller and Cookie Boudreaux. They are the cofounders of the newly formed Business Ethics Alliance.

The group, whose aim is to foster commitment to ethical behavior in the workplace, has gotten off to a fast start. Formed in April after some brainstorming by the two, the alliance is now drawing 100-plus crowds to its monthly luncheons at the Sarasota Hyatt.

The good response “says to us that there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come,” says Boudreaux, a business consultant with Mark Kamin and Associates. She thinks all the unethical behavior that has been highlighted by the Bernie Madoffs, Tiger Woods and AIGs of the world has gotten people stirred up.

“Underneath it all, people are saying, ‘I want my power back,’” she said. “That’s encouraging and inspiring to me.”

I admit I was inspired after attending last Monday’s luncheon and talk by Teri Hansen, of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice. Hansen spoke on “Do People Trust Your Neighbors” and outlined the initiative the foundation has been working on for several years, called Because It Matters.net.

The initiative’s 10 keys to civility aim to increase “civic participation, civil discourse and social capital.” They are simple keys to behavior — pay attention, make a difference, speak kindly, think positively, respect others.

Companies involved have signed a pledge to carry the message into their workplaces to improve their culture.

The funny thing, Hansen reports, is that companies that take the ethical road find their businesses prosper as a result, they have better employee retention and buy-in to the company’s goals and they see improved productivity and customer service.

A recent poll shows 63 percent of college-educated people don’t trust business in general, says Miller, a business consultant with Dreamtree, adding, “We think we can do something about that.”

He believes the real issue facing the business world now is not a down economy but a lack of integrity.

All the Ponzi schemes and real estate scams have had a negative impact on the Manatee-Sarasota area, and Miller and Boudreaux are determined to do something to turn all that around. Instead of focusing on the past, they want business people to start thinking and planning and being creative.

“Sit down with people you trust, people who are grounded in values and who have weathered economic storms,” she says. “We have to take responsibility for our own action, stop talking about what other people did, and start looking at what we might need to do that is new and different.”

Miller agrees: “We want people to start thinking and taking action.”

At the end of last week’s luncheon, participants were encouraged to stay longer for some reflection and discussion. Guess what? They did.

There are luncheon sessions planned through November on the fourth Monday of the month. Cost is $25.

As they look ahead, Miller and Boudreaux want to have an annual ethics award given to a local business that is making ethics a part of its culture.

There also are plans for a national ethics conference that would highlight the Manatee-Sarasota area and spotlight it as a highly ethical place to do business.

What better way to attract new businesses — and the businesses you hope will stay.

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