Omaha's brand is integrity, speaker tells ethics group

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Posted: Friday, September 13, 2013 12:00 am

Omaha is becoming known nationally for its integrity, according to a businessman who was born in the city, started his career here and still has an interest in the business community.

“Omaha has such a vivid, clear brand,” said W. Grant Gregory, whose home is in Stamford, Conn. “You've got something special here.”

That brand, Gregory said, can be traced to top business leaders who spread strong ethical standards through their organizations.

“The byproduct of ethical behavior is trust,” he said. “If ethical behavior and integrity is embedded in an organization ... there's no limit to what you can do. ... Trust is the lubricant for success.”

Gregory is chairman of Gregory & Hoenemeyer Inc., a merchant banking company, and owner of Arbor Bank of Omaha, which also has locations in Nebraska City and, in Iowa, Oakland and Sidney.

He spoke Thursday to about 100 people at a breakfast meeting at the Holland Center of the Omaha Business Ethics Alliance, which is affiliated with Creighton University.

Gregory started the Omaha office of the Touche Ross accounting firm, now called Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, and later was its chairman. He has served as a corporate director for dozens of companies, including Chrysler Corp., MCI, Verizon, Worldcom Group and InaCom Corp. of Omaha.

His mentors included Omaha brewer Robert Storz, Valmont Industries founder Robert Daugherty and businessman Don Clifton, whose company became Gallup.

For each of them, Gregory said, ethical conduct was a central tenet of business.

Storz, for example, wanted regular reports on infections at Clarkson Hospital, where he served as a director, to prevent disease. “He fought it one germ at a time,” Gregory said.

Daugherty once told him, “If it's not No. 1, I don't want to put my name on it.”

Clifton helped him develop a hiring model that screened out people likely to cause ethical problems, giving 10 points for each of four qualities: intelligence, innovation, industriousness and integrity.

Multiplying the points together yielded a score, Gregory said. If a job applicant scored at the top of everything but integrity, the formula's result was 10 x 10 x 10 x 0 = 0.

Companies that are successful in the long run have cultures where integrity is basic and the leaders are self-confident, but where arrogance and hubris are absent, he said.

When businesses have strong ethical standards, he said, “they're more profitable over a sustained period of time.”

Ethical conduct is becoming more important because the Internet is making people's lives transparent, he said. “Ethics is about your personal behavior, and there is no place to hide.”

He contrasted Omaha's reputation for ethical conduct with Las Vegas' marketing slogan, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” which implies behavior that you're ashamed to admit.

“What kind of a brand is that?” Gregory said.

He said Omaha's ethics-based brand makes the city “a cauldron of success. If you want to start a business, start it right here.”

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