It pays to treat people right. That was one lesson of the recent Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics competition sponsored by the Better Business Bureau of Spokane.
WSU students enrolled in professor John Cullen’s business ethics class prepared three of the winning dossiers for the competition that sought to highlight businesses in eastern Washington that exemplify fair and ethical behavior.
Participating in the competition was one component of the discussion-based class that is relatively new on the WSU campus.
“It’s the kind of class that isn’t usually taught to undergraduates at a public university,” Cullen said. Courses in business ethics are more typically found in MBA programs or at private institutions, he said.
In this class, students debate “the full range of issues that a business might face,” from drug testing to truth-in-advertising to age discrimination.
The competition, he said, allowed students to move past theoretical discussions to see how companies define and live by their own ethical standards.
More than 60 businesses were entered in the competition, and one winner was chosen in each of six different size categories at a banquet held in late February.
WSU students submitted winning dossiers for Jerry’s Automotive in Pullman (one to 12 employees) and First Step Internet in Moscow (13 to 99 employees). Another team profiled Garco Construction of Spokane, which earned an honorable mention.
Cullen said he asked his students to go out into the community and find a business to work with on the competition.
Ryan Anderson, who worked with Jerry’s Automotive of Pullman, said he thought of Jerry’s as soon as he learned of the competition.
“The reason I chose Jerry’s is because I’d been a customer of theirs,” he said.
Anderson brought his car to Jerry’s because of a squeaking belt. Technicians replaced the belt, but the squeaking continued so he brought it back again. It turned out the problem was really a leaking water pump, which they fixed at no charge.
“As a customer, I wanted to show my appreciation by coming back,” Anderson said. Not only did Anderson return with repeat business, but he and partner Lisa Daly compiled the 30-page report that earned Jerry’s the Torch Award.
The thing is, Anderson said, the staff at Jerry’s didn’t just treat him right, but they strive to treat every customer that way.
“I think what it all comes down to is doing things right,” Anderson said. “At the end of the day you don’t want to be working for a company that screws people.”
Bryan Rosman was part of a four-person team that created the report for Garco Construction in Spokane. Like Anderson, Rosman also had previous experience with the company he ended up writing about — not as a customer, but as an employee.
“Working for a company, you don’t always know all the ins and outs of how decisions get made,” he said. But the Torch competition allowed him to gain a much fuller understanding of the process of ethical decision-making.
Before taking the class, he said, he knew it was important to be ethical and do the right thing, but he hadn’t really thought about what that meant on a day-in and day-out basis.
“I didn’t understand the degree that it affects who you are,” he said. “The class allowed me to think outside the box regarding ethics and morals.”
So much so that when Rosman was interviewing for jobs this winter he paid close attention to the way different companies described their mission or their business philosophy. In the end, he said, he chose a company that seems to be closely allied with his own beliefs.
Rosman, who grew up on a 2,000-acre wheat and barley farm, has decided to take a job with Northwest Farm Credit.
“They are out to service rural America,” he said.
Other members of the Garco team were Robbie Cowgill, Mark Kummer and Kyle Stevens. Members of the First Step Internet team were Courtney Krenz, Dustin Nelson, Timothy O’Neill and Brendan Richards.
Winners of the regional awards will be entered in the International Torch Awards competition sponsored by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The regional competition was organized by the BBB in partnership with the Gonzaga Ethics Institute. Gonzaga business students also partnered with local businesses to complete applications.