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Auburn's chapter of the Student Center for Public Trust
Join an organization with others like you who are dedicated to ethical leadership. The Student Center for Public Trust (SCPT) not only focuses on the importance of ethical leadership but also the need for accountability, integrity, and trust across all avenues of business.
As part of the SCPT, you will be able to participate the meetings held twice a semester as well as
Check us out on AU Involve and see what else we have to offer.
The SCPT is proud to say that we have hosted a variety of speakers to come and talk during some of the semester meetings. Check out some of our speakers and find out what they had to say about organizational ethics in business.
Dr. Len Berry, a distinguished professor of Marketing at Texas A&M and senior fellow at the institute for Healthcare Improvement, recently shared insight on “The Power of Proximity in Healthcare Services Research” before the Harbert College of Business Physicians Executive MBA students.
Dr. Berry spent his two hours talking about his two Sabbatical Leaves to both first and second year PMBA students as well as facility and staff, with about 60 attendees in total. He used his first hour talking about his study of healthcare services at the Mayo Clinic and the second hour discussing his study of the service improvement in Cancer Care at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
He talked about how Healthcare is a different kind of service. Customers of healthcare are sick, reluctant, relinquish privacy, are at risk and their Clinicians are stressed. Healthcare is a need, and patients’ wants and needs often conflict. He talked about the difference between aspirational core values and implantation core values, using the Mayo Clinics as an example.
During his time at the Mayo Clinic he used a survey to answer the question: How do patients define a “Good Doctor?” From this survey he collected seven ideal physician behaviors including confident, empathetic, humane, personal, forthright, respectful, and thorough. Dr. Berry Presenting to PMBA students
Dr. Berry also talked about the 5 C’s of Cancer: clues, coordinating, connection, continuity, and community. However, the topic he stressed the most during his time talking about his studying cancer care, was the “never phrases.” He asked doctors what phrases they would never say to cancer patients. He compiled a long list, but only disclosed a few. This sparked a debate among the physicians in attendance who were trying to come up with replacement phrases.
After the presentation, many of the physicians interacted with Dr. Berry to gain his perspective on numerous medical service quality issues. In addition, many of the physicians wanted to maintain personal contact with him to gain more insights on his expertise in healthcare.
The Harbert Student Center for the Public Trust, sponsored by the Center for Ethical Organizational Cultures, conducted a debate related to rules vs. principles in accounting decisions on December 2nd with 115 students attending.
To begin the debate, rules and principles were explained in their most basic form by the debating teams. Principles are represented by intrinsic properties that begin internally within a person or a group. They result in a non-exhaustive set of considerations for policy making, leaving open the possibility that other considerations might be relevant. Rules are created by external bodies to provide guidance and direction to individuals. They are externally enforced and prohibit the possibility of adaptation or exception by judgement.
The first team, composed of Master of Accountancy Students, Tri Nix and Callie Kyzar, started their side of the debate by introducing rules-based accounting. The United States Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) are the best example of rules-based decision making. Rules-based accounting provides an easier comparison of financial statements between two different companies so that investors can make informed decisions. It also decreases the likelihood of a lawsuit, taking accountants out of the line of fire. Rules create a stable and steady path that accountants can look back to and correct if needed, removing the need for professional judgement. It is an attempt to apply a rule to a decision so decisions are consistent.
The second team, composed of Master of Accountancy Students Caleb Yarbrough and Zach Youngstrom, introduced principles- based accounting. International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRAs) provides a good example of principles-based accounting standards. The fundamental IFRS principles are transparency, accountability, and efficiency, and each standard must be vetted through these principles to be passed. Principles-based accounting is used in some capacity by 144 different countries, and 156 countries (including the US) have committed to IFRS as the single set of global standards. Principles-based accounting standards provide greater flexibility than rules-based standards because principles are intrinsic in nature and can be applied in many different situations, like how to handle recognizing cryptocurrency.
Principles-based standards also allow room for the accountant to make a professional judgement, requiring the accountant to have a deeper understanding of the transaction. Principles-based standards are also less complex than rules-based standards because they adhere to the spirit of a rule instead of the words of the rule itself.
The debate finally ended with the conclusion that both rules and principles-based accounting standards are needed to make good decisions. The ideal system would consist of using principles as an overarching guideline with rules that point accountants in the right direction in situations that can apply specific rules. Students attending the debate were engaged and had many questions. The debate format provided for a solid learning experience about accounting decision making.
Robert Jones, the CEO of United Bank, talked with our students on Monday October 14th on the topic “Ethical Leadership: The Multi Bottom Line” for the first meeting of the NASBA Student Center for Public Trust.
United Bank was founded in 1904 and now has 17 branches across four counties in Southwest Alabama and Northwest Florida. United Bank is centered around helping the rural areas and is rooted in consumer, agricultural and small business lending. They are focused on helping create economic development in low-to-moderate income communities.
The company was ranked 16th in the country in American Banker magazine’s annual list of top 200 public banks with assets of less than $2 billion. It was also recently recognized as one of the best companies to work for in the state of Alabama by Business Alabama.
As a community bank they align with organizations that make communities succeed in economic development. United Bank contributes to a network of service-minded industry lenders by providing the resources they need to be successful. United Bank is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). A CDFI is a private sector financial institution that focuses on personal lending and business development efforts in local communities.
United Bank was the first bank in the state of Alabama to receive a Capital Magnet Fund Award and New Markets Tax Credit allocations. It’s also one of the few banks in the country to participate in the USDA Community Facilities Lending Program that provides direct loans and grants to essential community facilities in rural areas.
Mr. Jones emphasized the importance of ethics and integrity in all business relationships. He discussed that to develop trust, the customer, employee and bank must maintain high ethical standards. A high level of trust takes community engagement to a new level.
The banking industry is in the process of transitioning from corporations that are exclusively bottom-line driven to corporations that are playing a more intricate role in people’s lives. This multi bottom line means that United Bank is developing new concepts and expanding their capabilities within the organization as well as the communities they serve. If the communities are successful, the bank will be successful.
“There is increasing awareness that corporations drive more than financial returns, and this is a good thing,” said Jones. “We are embracing the fact that financial performance is important, but, we can still through deliberate strategies do things that improve the lives of our customers and our communities.”
The National Association of State Board of Accountancy (NASBA) Center for the Public Trust (CPT) recently awarded the CampusBeing A Difference Award to Beth Davis-Sramek, the Gayle Parks Forehand Associate Professor in Supply Chain Management in the Harbert College of Business at Auburn University. The student Campus Being a Difference award was also given to Catherine Miller, a student in Marketing at the University.
Dr. Davis-Sramek provides students with an interactive environment where ethical business behaviors are addressed. She also creates opportunities for students to network with the business community to develop their professional leadership skills. Her outreach work includes a leadership role in the Elevate Portland Elementary Initiative, which creates productive learning environments for students and provides experiences that encourages a path to higher education and a successful future while embracing the importance of ethics and integrity.
Catherine Miller is from Lake Zurich, IL. In addition to her studies in Marketing,Catherine is pursuing a second major in French. Her leadership roles include membership in the Mortar Board National Honor Society and the Women’s Leadership Institute. She is also active in various on-campus activities, including War Eagle Girls, Plainsmen and the Auburn University Housing Department.
These awards were presented at a panel event put on by the Auburn chapter of the Student Center for the Public Trust, which outlined the impact of artificial intelligence on marketing, services and ethics. Dr. Dora Bock, Dr. Jeremy Wolter, Dr. Linda Ferrell and Dr. O.C. Ferrell spoke. “The Student CPT chapter at Auburn is a professional organization that provides students with an opportunity to develop ethical leadership skills that will lead to responsible business conduct. Without this leadership, in today’s competitive business environment and with its emphasis on short-term results, there can be ethical challenges,” notes O.C. Ferrell, the James T. Pursell, Ethics and Director for The Center of Ethical Organizational Cultures in the Harbert College of Business.
Tim Self, Director for Compliance and Ethics for the Southern Company, served as our Distinguished Speaker. In 2018, Southern Company was named by Forbes magazine as one of the world’s best companies and ranked it in their top 20 of “America’s Best Employers.” It is one of the largest producers of electricity in the United States and the largest wholesale provider of electricity in the Southeast.
Today, the company employs more than 32,000 people. Its electric providers include Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Mississippi Power, Southern Power and Southern Nuclear. In addition, its natural gas companies include Southern Company Gas, Chattanooga Gas, Nicor Gas, and Virginia Natural Gas. Other subsidiaries provide customized energy solutions, fiber optics, and wireless communications services; they include PowerSecure, Southern Telecom, Southern Linc, and Sequent Energy Management.
Core values are key to the company and serve as guidance for their decision-making and organizational culture. Employees and vendors are expected to act honestly, with integrity, respect and fairness. “Employees should be trained for high integrity success not caught in failure,” says Self. Southern Company is concerned about the security of customers personal information and privacy. For example, the company does not keep customer credit card information having it destroyed after each bill pay transaction. There are many federal and state regulations that must be addressed with strict compliance.
Recently, Southern streamlined its Code of Ethics which outline the risk areas for the company and include several confidential “Concerns” reporting systems via a hotline, an on-line link, email, in person, and by mail. All employees are required to read the Code of Ethics each year and sign an acknowledgment they did so. Before signing, they must answer a set questions about the Code ensuring that each employee has been given a direct opportunity to disclose a potential compliance issue. “Our company strives to consistently and fairly reward good behavior, appropriately address bad behavior and hold third parties accountable” stresses Self. This Code is reviewed and updated periodically. Contractors are also allowed and encouraged to use the “Concerns,” reporting system.
Due to the nature of Southern Company’s business operations, the firm must interact with a variety of constituents, ranging from leaders in government, community, business, and industry. The company has a strict policy when it comes to conflicts of interest. Background checks are required for all employees of Southern Company, and in most cases for contractors as well based on job responsibilities. He believes the key to bringing all employees on board with the Company’s ethical standards is communication and training. Southern demands that all written communications utilize understandable language and be widely distributed. Their ethics education utilizes all forms of media from formal sit-down and on-line training to printed brochures. The company website and phone apps are vehicles used to reach all employees. Southern Company’s ethical philosophy is “Core values guide our behavior and builds trust.”
On Thursday September 27, Carol Tomé spoke to the Auburn SCPT (and to the Auburn Family) in a speech entitled "Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast."
The Home Depot takes care of its associates who take care of their customers. This strategy—or culture—is a big reason why the home improvement giant recorded its highest sales earnings (nearly $101 billion) in company history in 2017.
Carol Tomé, Chief Financial Officer at The Home Depot since 2001, shared this philosophy, “How Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” via video conference with roughly 150 Harbert College students Thursday morning.
“We are defined by our culture—and our culture starts with our unique management construct, which is the inverted pyramid,” said Tomé, who has been ranked by the Wall Street Journal and Fortune Magazine as one of the top women in business. “Our CEO is at the bottom of the pyramid—and at the top of our pyramid are our associates (employees) who serve our customers. We (executives) bear the weight for the actions that we take and the decisions that we make. We at the bottom of the pyramid should bear that weight so that we can free up our associates to take care of our customers.”
The Home Depot wasn’t always the world’s largest home improvement retailer, however. In fact, when the housing market crashed from 2006 to 2009, the company lost $13 billion, or 25 percent of its sales. Tomé said the company simply relied on its core values. “We had to make some very hard decisions,” she said. “As we were making those decisions, we went back to what our co-founder Bernie Marcus said. He said, ‘If you take care of your associates, they will take care of the customers, and everything else will take care of itself.’
“During that time when many companies were freezing raises, freezing contributions into 401K plans and stopping bonus plans, we said, ‘Nope. We’re not going to do that. Not for the front line. Not for the associates who are taking care of our customers.’ For all of our store associates, we continued to pay merit increases, we continued to make 401K contributions, and we continued to pay success sharing, which is a bonus plan for our hourly associates. We stayed true to that.
“Our associates matter. They are a name and a face. We invest in them—not just in pay, but through education and learning opportunities for career development.”
Tomé noted that executives at the bottom of the pyramid did not enjoy the same luxuries, but instead enjoyed watching the company grow out of the recession.
“We believed that when the economy turned around, then so would we,” she added—and she was right.
Before Tomé worked for The Home Depot, she served as Vice President and Treasurer at Riverwood International Corporation in Atlanta. But the new Georgia resident fell in love with a certain home Atlanta-based improvement retailer and even became a company shareholder.
Then she received a phone call to work there.
“I wasn’t sure if it was right for me,” she explained. “I went to one of my friends, and I asked them what they thought.”
Their advice—take the job!
“Had they not told me that, and had I not listened, I wouldn’t have gone back and who knows where I would be today,” she said.
“Don’t be too planful or you will miss out on opportunities that you can’t even dream exist. Be sure to take risks along the way. Make sure to build really big networks—people that you can leverage when you are faced with these turns that happen as you go down your life’s journey. The road is going to make twists and turns and you are going to have to make decisions—do I go left or right—and if you have a strong network, you can leverage that network to help you make decisions.”
Thursday’s presentation was sponsored by Auburn University’s Center for Ethical Organizational Cultures through its Student Center for Public Trust.
“Mrs. Tomé provided important insights as to how high integrity organized cultures can drive success,” said O.C. Ferrell, James T. Pursell Senior Eminent Scholar in Ethics and the Student Center for Public Trust Director. “She is a role model for students as they develop their career paths.”
Alfonzo Alexander is Chief Relationship Officer of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the President and CEO of the Student Center for Public Trust.
Alexander was the inaugural speaker for the Auburn SCPT chapter and addressed more than 115 students during his talk on “Ethical Leadership: The True Sustainable Leadership.” He shared personal and professional experiences about how ethics has played a role in his success and consequently, plays a role in many business professionals’ demise.
For more information on Alfonzo, take a look at these links:Alfonzo Alexander
Or check out this story from the Harbert College of Business on Alfonzo’s inaugural speech:
Auburn's chapter of the Student Center for Public Trust held its spring meeting on Monday, March 19th, featuring guest speaker Wilson Nash.
Nash earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He now functions as the Associate General Counsel for Brasfield and Gorrie, LLC, one of the largest privately held construction companies in the U.S. Here he reviews and negotiates contracts and purchase orders on a daily basis along with providing project-specific counsel. Mr. Nash also serves as the ethics and compliance officer and therefore is responsible for the oversight of ethics and the firm’s code of conduct.
In his captivating speech on balancing ethics and compliance with two separate workforces, Mr. Nash provided examples of the success of Brasfield and Gorrie and its commitment to stakeholders. The firm has an unwavering commitment to quality and integrity. For example, safety is their highest priority which is reflected in their SEE IT, OWN IT, SHARE IT initiative. The company’s values also include performance, integrity, respect, innovation and teamwork. Brasfield and Gorrie was the first construction firm to become a member of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics. The firm also has an ethics and compliance hotline which is monitored by a third party.
Director of Center for Ethical Organizational Cultures