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Posted: March 01, 2010

18th Annual Colorado Ethics in Business Alliance Awards

Celebrating role models for leadership and service

Mike Taylor

The reward for practicing good ethics is being able to sleep at night knowing you did the right thing. But it also leads to the long-term success of a business, organization or individual. This year's winners of the Colorado Ethics in Business Alliance Awards offer strong examples.

Mountain Crest Mortgage, which earned an Ethics in Business Award this year, steered clear of the subprime loans and adjustable rate mortgages that had such a huge role in the near collapse of the financial system. That decision has helped the Denver company earn the loyalty of its customers.

Robinson Dairy, also an Ethics in Business Award winner, has supported many civic and business groups and charitable causes during its 124-year history in Denver and has continued to be considered a local brand - even though it's been owned by a national company for more than a decade.

Lee Palmer Everding, winner of the Daniel R. Ritchie Award this year, has worked with volunteer and charitable groups throughout her professional career and founded Denver Eclectics as a vehicle to promote discussion and debate among the city's women.

And in a time when nonprofits are having a difficult time securing sponsors, Junior Achievement Rocky Mountain Inc. - the winner of this year's Samaritan Institute Award - boasts 3,200 volunteers and has managed to grow even during the downturn. Longtime CEO and President Robin Wise has led the operation to become the 12th-largest JA in the nation.

The Colorado Ethics in Business Awards program was founded by the University of Denver, ColoradoBiz and the Samaritan Institute. Winners are profiled on the following pages. They'll be honored at the 18th Annual CEBA Awards on March 18 at the Sheraton Denver Downtown. Visit www.ceba.org for details and to register.

ETHICS IN BUSINESS AWARD
Mountain Crest Mortgage
In an industry paying the price for an era of bait-and-switch advertising, subprime loans and option ARMs, it's no wonder Mountain Crest Mortgage is not only winning new clients but winning accolades for its ethics.

For example, the Denver-based mortgage banker and brokerage has always guaranteed its closing costs in writing. Derek Bamonte, who founded the company with Michele Dine, notes that this is now the law, effective Jan. 1.

"Which is good," he says. "But we've been doing it since we opened our doors in January 1996."

Mountain Crest Mortgage also eschewed subprime loans and option ARMS (adjustable rate mortgages), a stance that might have once seemed limiting from a business standpoint but now appears wise.

That policy helps explain why 96 percent of Mountain Crest's new clients have been referred by someone who has done business with the company - primarily past clients or real estate agents.
"Some companies, 100 percent of their loans were subprime or option ARMs," Bamonte says. "We didn't believe in them for ethical reasons. I think that's helped us. One, a lot people did not need those programs, and they ended up getting talked into them with somebody else. There's a lot of bad will, and I think our clients are grateful and loyal that we never steered them wrong."

As a result, Mountain Crest has grown and prospered amid some of the roughest years the mortgage industry has faced. In 2008 the company closed just more than $137 million in residential loans. By mid-year 2009, the firm had already closed more than $173 million in loans.

The Denver/Boulder Better Business Bureau has noted Mountain Crest's ethical standards, too. Since 2004 when the BBB introduced its Gold Star Award for companies with zero complaints for the previous three years, Mountain Crest has been a Gold Star winner every year. The company also received a 2009 Denver/Boulder BBB Torch Award in the small business category for ethical standards and practices, long-standing reputation, marketing, advertising, management practices and training programs.

Bamonte, who started out in the mortgage business after earning a degree in finance from Indiana University, says he was somewhat surprised by his firm's increased business in 2009. But he has no difficulty explaining it.

"One, we just have a very loyal following," he says. "Two, mortgage rates were low, which helped. And three - and I feel bad about this - a lot of mortgage companies shut their doors. Even though the pie was shrinking in terms of consumers, so was our competition."

- Mike Taylor

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ETHICS IN BUSINESS AWARD
Robinson Dairy LLC

The history of Robinson Dairy goes back 124 years, beginning when Louis Robinson bought a farm in rural Lakewood in 1885. To get an idea of that place and time, consider he sold the farm in 1904 for $5 an acre.

Much has changed - in the dairy industry and at Robinson. Perhaps the most significant development came when Dick and Eddie Robinson, great-grandsons of Louis, sold the company to Suiza Foods in 1999, and Suiza merged with Dallas-based Dean Foods in 2001.

Still, Dick and Eddie remain involved in the business with offices in Denver, and community involvement has remained as constant as the company's Robinson lineage over the last century and a quarter.

Along with providing dairy products and packaging services in Colorado and Wyoming, the 170-employee company provides on-site packaging services for both themselves and other companies within Dean Foods Co., such as Horizon Organic Milk of Boulder. That includes the manufacture of milk jugs, which are sourced from recycled plastic pellets and are recyclable themselves.
The dairy has taken steps to avoid overlap of distribution areas in order to minimize travel miles and to conserve energy in the company's supply chain through programs such as its "no-idle" policy, which prohibits engine idling.

The company has an ongoing sponsorship with the University of Denver and other local universities, the Committee Denver Foundation, the alumni of Colorado State University and Regis University, the YMCA, Boy Scouts and numerous contributions to school activities.

"There are a lot of great quality companies in Colorado, I know that," said General Manager Charlie Walling, who has been with Robinson Dairy for 10 years. "Probably what got (CEBA's) attention are our diverse board affiliations and our reach in the community, from health care to commerce and trade, to higher ed, to business-to-business groups."

Philanthropy no doubt played a role, too. The dairy has contributed to the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation, Porter Hospital, the Health Care Foundation Board, Children's Hospital Foundation, Rose Foundation and National Jewish Hospital.

In constant pursuit of operational and ethical excellence, the company uses employee and customer surveys to benchmark progress. Employees are evaluated based on the surveys and quality tests, a process that creates accountability within the company.

And then there's ethics training itself. All Robinson Dairy employees participate in these sessions, offered throughout the year. The sessions are both structured and informal to encourage all to candidly share stories and interact freely.

Given what the community-minded dairy has become and what it has held onto, Louis Robinson must be looking down and smiling - perhaps with a big milk mustache.

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DANIEL R. RITCHIE AWARD
Lee Palmer Everding of Denver Eclectics

Lee Palmer Everding of Denver Eclectics grew up in Dallas in a family with the means to provide her with just about whatever she might have needed to be successful. She made the most of those advantages with grit and determination.

But that is only part of why Everding became such a success story throughout her life, including earning this year's Daniel R. Ritchie Award. She has carried a few simple lessons from her parents, Nicholas and Virginia Clinch, on her journey. One of them is particularly meaningful and has helped shape her: "With privilege, comes responsibility."

"I think for me, ethics were embedded in the family tradition, in their example. I think I have been surrounded by ethical people," Everding said. "I swam in it."

Everding has devoted her life to helping others, first, as a social worker, and by serving and volunteering with many charities and nonprofit organizations throughout Denver. The former chairwoman and CEO of Communicom Corp. of America says she has always tried in her professional life to adhere to another philosophy learned from her father. She doesn't ask people to do what she would not do herself.

"I have a calling," Everding said. "It's really kind of a spiritual thing, too. I have been very lucky to be able to do what I like to do and still to be able to have a lifestyle that has been very comfortable. I feel I may be one of the luckiest people. So I have really enjoyed being able to serve on nonprofit boards, and I sort of made a career of it."

Everding's passion these days is bringing women together to discuss many of the hot-button issues in our politics and culture through Denver Eclectics, an organization she founded almost by accident. She was part of a book club 30 years ago in which a group of 20 women gathered periodically to discuss the tomes they read. The debates didn't fascinate her as much as the way people went about them.

She noticed listening, really listening, to another point of view was a challenge for many, and it is what she encourages above all these days through Denver Eclectics.

Everding holds 32 programs a year between September and March with different speakers or presenters getting the discussion started. The group has grown to 500 strong, where it is capped. The few who drop out or move on each year are quickly replaced with new faces and points of view.

"I've had people around me who have said when you don't like somebody presenting and you think, ‘Aha,' that's when you need to stop and really pay attention and be open to other points of view," she said. "When I'm home and watching television, I try to run the gamut. I don't want to hear just one side, and I don't want my group to hear just one side."

- Kyle Ringo

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SAMARITAN INSTUTUTE AWARD
Junior Achievement Rocky Mountain Inc.

Tyler Hart walks into a classroom of seventh-graders and immediately senses the suspicion. A few stare stone-faced. One sits slumped in a back-row chair, arms crossed, eyes directed toward the ceiling. Unfazed, Hart begins teaching.

Her subject matter for the group of at-risk pre-teens isn't sexy: business, budgets, reaching financial goals. But by relating the topics to their everyday lives (that iPod in your backpack represents a true entrepreneurial tale) and making it fun, she wins them over. Even the kid in the back row.

"By the end of (the six-week course), he had loosened up. He pulled me aside and said: ‘You know, I really think I could go to college now,'" said Hart, who had just realized every teacher's dream. And she's not even a teacher.

Hart is one of 3,200 volunteers who make Junior Achievement Rocky Mountain Inc. run. Under the 18-year guidance of CEO and President Robin Wise, the operation has become the 12th-largest JA in the nation, growing from 8,000 students in 1990 to more than 95,000 students today. Wise attributes the success to having "the right kind of people. They are passionate about the mission. They are passionate about making kids' lives better."

Funded fully by donations and corporate sponsors, Wise said the operation felt the pinch of the recession and watched other JA programs shut down. But, thanks largely to the board, hers still managed to grow, she said. "We don't take anyone for granted."

With recent changes to education standards requiring personal financial literacy, Wise hopes JA can expand even more. Her goal of reaching 20 percent of students in her area (up from today's 14 percent) by 2012 will take about 5,000 volunteers, she said.

Serving schools in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming, JA volunteers are armed with a ready-made curriculum. Fun and relatable to current news, the syllabus makes her job easy, Hart said, using her stock-market classes during 2008-09 as an example. "I could say: I want you to watch the news tonight, or pick up the Wall Street Journal."

Wise hears touching anecdotes and positive comments, such as Hart's, almost daily. "That's part of what gets me up every morning. We are not only making a difference in kids' lives," she said, but in parents' and volunteers' lives, too.

For Hart, there's nothing like witnessing the moment when you can almost see a spark go off, igniting a kid's motivational fire. She used her lessons of Apple CEO Steve Jobs' journey to iPod fame as an example. She always reminds students that Jobs was once a 17-year-old with an idea.

"You give them this vision. And then it's just so awesome to see them bridging that gap."

- Debra Melani

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Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

In reading about these honorees, one doesn't get the idea that these individuals set about to order their businesses, organizations and lives in such a way as to garner accolades such as CEBA's, but rather, as the simple extension of their character--as simply, "the better way to be." Beyond all the tiresome debates about classical and modern ethics theories, this is the best motivation for exemplary behavior, whether anyone notices or not. By Ron Ausmus on 2010 03 06

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