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Bank exec says ethics can pay off for firms

Being the 'good guys' called profitable goal

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Sharon Speyer of Huntington National Bank speaks at the Better Business Bureau's ethics awards gathering.

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When it comes to ethics, it isn't enough for a business or corporation to just "talk the talk" if they want to be profitable, a top area banking official said Wednesday.

Whether it's a commitment to environmental sustainability, ensuring that suppliers behave ethically, or just making donations to help feed the poor, "you've got to walk the walk" if you want to be perceived as ethical, said Sharon Speyer, president of the northwest Ohio region for Huntington National Bank.

Ms. Speyer discussed business ethics in her keynote address at the Better Business Bureau of Northwestern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan's 10th annual Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics presentation at the Hilton Garden Inn in Perrysburg.

She said business ethics have been in the news lately because of consumers' frustration with Wall Street and actions by large companies.

"Corporations have gotten a big wake-up call," she said, because many have acted in ways neither legally or socially responsible.

For a business, ethics can be more than just a noble standard to which to aspire. It also can be profitable, she explained.

"There's a direct correlation," Ms. Speyer said, "between profits and ethical behavior." Companies noted for their high ethical standards regularly outperform the Standard & Poor's 500 index, she added.

Examples of companies with strong profits and good ethical positions, she said, include Kellogg Co., which not only has cut back on energy use and emission of greenhouse gases, it set up a sustainability committee on its board of trustees and made a commitment to healthy choices in its food products.

Starbucks Corp. ensures its suppliers adhere to sustainability standards, while McDonald's committed to healthier choices in Happy Meals that it markets for children.

The bank president said examples of companies adhering to ethical standards reminds her of when she asked her dad why he loved to watch movies about the old West.

"He said, 'It's really simple. You can tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. The bad guys wear the black hats and the good guys wear the white hats,' " she said. "Well, life's not that simple. We can't always tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. But when we look in the mirror, we can tell.

"So we should always strive to be those guys wearing the white hats," she said.

This year's winners of Torch Awards, given to area firms that best display ethics in their business practices, were Professional Remodelers Organization in the small business category, Occupational Care Consultants in the medium business category, Arnolds Home Improvement in the large business category, Yark Automotive Group in the extra-large business category, and the Hillsdale County Senior Services Center in the nonprofit category.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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