Cote’s Colorado: Best the best in uncertain times

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy  – Martin Luther King Jr.

A former co-worker gave me a postcard with this quote by the late civil rights leader as a memento when she left the newspaper where we had worked together for several years. I tacked it on the wall near my computer to remember both my friend and the simple but powerful message.

When times get tough, the pressure to relax ethical standards intensifies. Doing the right thing seldom allows you to take the easy way out. As the economy puts greater pressure on businesses to survive, comfort and convenience are in short supply while challenge and controversy are plentiful.

How can you reduce your costs without hurting your customers or overtaxing your employees? How do you handle pay cuts and layoffs in a fair and humane way? When does cutting corners create more problems than it solves? How do you balance the needs of your employees and customers with your responsibility to maintain your business?

As Ponzi schemes and other brands of shysterism continue to bubble up nationally and in Colorado, I return to King’s quote, appreciating the vast difference between the worst and best business behavior and how much the latter inspires and the former demoralizes.

This month the editors of ColoradoBiz compiled our annual Best Companies to Work for in Colorado feature, a program that offers a refreshing reminder of the better side of American business. These companies understand how rewarding their employees through generous benefits and encouraging them to engage with their communities can not only contribute to a stronger society but strengthen the bottom line.

They encourage ethical behavior because they embrace it in the workplace.

As we reviewed the best practices of the winners this year, I couldn’t help but think how challenging it must be for companies to maintain the high level of benefits they’re giving to employees and the philanthropic work they’re continuing in the most challenging economic climate in our nation’s history.

Andy Wilfong of Infinity Systems Engineering –first place in the small-sized business category – reported his company has been carrying several employees despite a lull in projects, gambling that a new contract it expects to secure this fall will deliver the needed workflow. Sure, such companies can only continue to behave this way if they remain profitable, but it’s a level of commitment that is staggering.


As we celebrate the best of business, it’s also time to consider companies that epitomize ethical behavior. ColoradoBiz is a founding member of the Colorado Ethics in Business Alliance, a nonprofit group that recognizes individuals and businesses each year that exemplify ethical behavior and a commitment to sustainability within their businesses and the community.

That means hiring people with character, said David Rogers of Keller Bros. Auto in Littleton, one of the companies honored by the alliance this year.

“I can teach anyone how to fix a car. But no one can train you to care about people,” Rogers told ColoradoBiz Managing Editor Mike Taylor for a story we published in March. “That’s a character trait, and it’s my job to find and hire those people who feel that way, who have the potential to become a great technician or a great adviser or manager.”

In the 18 years since the inception of the award program, CEBA has honored nearly 80 organizations and individuals. It is accepting nominations for the 2010 awards until Sept. 1. Nominations will be accepted in three categories: the Business Ethics Award for a Colorado business, The Daniel L. Ritchie Award for an individual, and the Samaritan Institute Award for a nonprofit organization.

Nominations may be submitted online at, or by calling the CEBA office at (303) 283-6002.  Next year’s CEBA awards lun-
cheon will be March 18, 2010 at a location to be announced soon.

Consider the award the ultimate measure of ethical behavior for businesses as they face challenging times.

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