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Core Values for Ethical Entrepreneurship

Michelle Benjamin, Founder, President and CEO, Benjamin Enterprises Inc.

Last August, Benjamin Enterprises Inc., the company I founded in 1985, made a decision to add a position that might be considered unusual for an entrepreneurial company: that of Corporate Culture Specialist.

Many have asked: What precipitated your decision? The answer is wrapped in our vision, mission and our core values. As our company is the preferred choice for Facility Support Services, our customers depend on our people to deliver high-quality security, janitorial, cafeteria and construction-flagging services. We recognize that to deliver superior services, several key components must be in place. These components, to name a few, include training, management, career development and self-improvement. The position of Corporate Culture Specialist focuses on two of these key components, mainly career development and self-improvement.

Our people - about 100 full time and 200 part-timers - come to us mostly as unskilled workers. Once hired, they are trained and certified in their field of choice and mentored by the Corporate Culture Specialist, focusing on each individual's self-mastery and development. It is my firm belief that if we as a company make the effort to understand our team members' goals and aspirations, and enable them to reach these levels of personal satisfaction, they, in turn, will help our company reach its goals.

A Guiding Placard

In short, our team members are a constituency that we, as an entrepreneurial company, serve. If we are to build a thriving business, our team members must be included in our vision. Yet they aren't the only entities that need to be included in our vision. There are three others: our customers, our community, and our company itself. Taken together, these four groups are the focus of the ethical core values that we have determined must be ingrained in our corporate culture.

At a time when major U.S. corporations, such as Enron, Tyco and Arthur Andersen have managed to set appallingly new lows when it comes to ethical business behavior, entrepreneurial concerns such as our own can and must take the high road. Yet is isn't only in response to the lapses that we must do so; at Benjamin Enterprises, for one, the ethical high road is one we've been traversing since our founding 18 years ago. Indeed, a statement of our core values has long been prominently displayed on a placard that hangs in the lobby of our headquarters building.

What follows is a look at how Benjamin Enterprises has been doing business ethically when it comes to each group.

  • Customers
    In order to assure profitability, it is essential that a core value address our customers, who ultimately enable us to earn our livelihoods. At Benjamin Enterprises, we take a holistic approach to caring for our customers. We endeavor to make them our partners when it comes to crafting and delivering our services. We meet monthly with each at the client's site, garnering an assessment of how we're doing and how we can do better. In one instance, a customer advised our traffic-control division that we needed our people to respond to a call within 30 minutes rather than 45. Had we not engaged with the client, we would have heard that everything was fine, fine - and we wouldn't have been able to correct a situation that could have became a problem.
  • People
    By people, I mean the individuals who do the work that makes Benjamin Enterprises a company: our team members. Just as we believe we must cater to their goals and aspirations through steps such as hiring the Corporate Culture Specialist, we also believe that this core value calls for compensating employees according to performance. At Benjamin Enterprises, we've devised a point system, with credits being earned for outstanding performance that, in turn, can be used for a variety of benefits, such as increased salary or tuition reimbursement for advanced training. Using this approach, some team members at our company have been able to earn more than managers. A third leg in addressing this core value involves recognition; in our company newsletter, we regularly feature and praise employees for superior work ethics.
  • Company
    At the heart of the ethical underpinnings for an entrepreneurial venture is the need for a commitment to the company itself; in short, a resolve to assure that it is profitable. At Benjamin Enterprises, we consider ourselves stewards of the company, which is an entity in and of itself and apart from our employees and our customers. Our baseline is our fiduciary responsibility to the company. Without black ink on the bottom line, nothing else is possible.
  • Community
    Our commitment to ethical values doesn't stop at our company's doorstep. We believe we have an ethical obligation to contribute to the community to which we belong outside of the office. In addition to the usual contributions to service organizations, such as United Way, we have instituted two programs that are specific to our company. The first, called "Catch a Rising Star," provides five $1,000 scholarships annually for formal education. The other involves my agreeing to meet once a month with five emerging business owners to offer support and advice. This mentoring program enables those owners to seek advice about specific issues from the professionals on our staff, such as our accountant and, yes, even our Corporate Culture Specialist.

In the wake of the scandals that have wrecked havoc on the ethics of corporate America, it bears noting that not all major companies have behaved badly. Indeed, organizations such as Johnson & Johnson have routinely been cited for good citizenship; a classic case in ethical behavior was that entity's quick decision to recall during the Tylenol situation of a few years back.

Yet, if not all of corporate America is ethically lacking, the corollary is that not all entrepreneurial entities are ethical stalwarts. Indeed, it takes commitment to run a business ethically, even an entrepreneurial business. At Benjamin Enterprises, we've lived that commitment by adopting the core values of customer, people, company and community. It behooves all entrepreneurs to adopt those as the ethical bottom line for their enterprises.

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