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Amid myriad news reports about Ponzi schemes, stock swindles, executive sex scandals and other corporate corruption, it's easy to forget that most employees and most companies live up to generally accepted standards for ethics and decency.
So it's worth taking note of an exemplary case like Certes Financial Pros, a Golden Valley firm that provides outplacement services for about 100 certified public accountants (CPAs) and senior financial executives. Certes won a Minnesota Business Ethics Award this year from the Minneapolis-based Center for Ethical Business Cultures. And it won an Integrity Award last year from the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.
We spoke with Sally Mainquist, president and CEO of Certes, to learn more about the firm and what it's doing right:
Q It's timely to talk about ethics and business. How does that apply in this company, and how did you set that standard? How did you decide to focus on it as a business strategy?
A I think it just happened naturally because all of the people that do [job] placements here are CPAs. I mean, I call us reformed accountants, OK, and accountants as a rule are pretty ethical.
And we were working with our clients and our contractors, who are really the same pool of people. They were our peers and our friends. And you want to treat others how you want to be treated. That's why over the years we've given out, I don't know, at least 5,000 or 10,000 of these [gold-colored] rulers [that say], "'Treat others as you would want to be treated' ... Works in business too."
And it's just so true. I mean, whenever we are in a sticky situation, we go, "If that was me, how would I want to be treated?' The Golden Rule. It's just so very simple, you know? The other thing is, we like this little book [by John C. Maxwell], "Ethics 101." And there's a page in here, page 17, where it talks about how the Golden Rule is in so many different religions and languages. "Christianity: Whatever you want me to do to you, do also to them. Islam: No one of you is a believer until he loves for his neighbor what he loves for himself." It just goes on and on in all different kinds of religions and languages.
You know what they say about common sense: It's not very common. You just strip it back to just common sense.
Q What was it that earned you the awards?
A We were judged against our peers in the marketplace and other companies. And what they did is, they looked at what we said we were going to do, how well we did it, and how consistently we did it. And if you were to check our reputation in town, we have a very good reputation. We always take the high road in all circumstances.
I always say, good things happen to good people. We're here for the long haul. I don't need to have a contractor or a placement at a [particular] company tomorrow. I don't feel I have like a gun to my head. I feel like, you know, maybe they'll need us in five years. I'll help them along and then they'll call me when they're ready to call. And we don't bother people. You know, we're very polite.
Q I notice you also won [a BBB] Integrity Award. How is that different than the ethics award?
A I think they kind of piggyback off the same [principle] ... It's our mission statement: "We create a welcoming environment which always allows our employees to express their true needs." We listen to people, which I think is common sense, too. "By meeting those needs we will attract and retain the best people."
You know, people want to be heard; they want to be listened to, OK. And they want to be valued. "By having the best people we can provide the best quality to our clients." If you have good people, I mean, that's what sells for us. If we have good people, then our clients will continually use us. You know, 90 percent of our business comes through referrals. "We practice integrity, honesty and respect in all our dealings." We take the high road.
Q Why do you think we have so much fraud going on now?
A I don't know. I'd start at the top. ... I think there's just a lot of greed, you know. I think we have a lot of smart people that are greedy, and it seems really sad to see that.
Q From a reporting standpoint, it seems like there's a treasure trove of secrets floating around this building.
A Well, we can't share those with you. (Laughter.)
Q Do you have an obligation under the Patriot Act or any other law to report evidence of money laundering, fraud, when you see it?
A Well, you know, we rarely run into that. If somebody's doing something like that, they're not going to bring in somebody like us to help out. They would avoid us.
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493