Greater Omaha Chamber

An Interview with Mr. David Brown, President and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber
By Kyle Brennan & Damon Wohlers, Creighton University MBA students

Please tell us how you developed your ethical framework.

“I firmly believe that good sound ethics start with family. I was raised in a religious family, went to church every Sunday and went to a Catholic grade school and high school. These all set a good ethical foundation for me.”

“Equally important to religion and education was my dad. He was an entrepreneur. My siblings and I had a chance to observe our dad while growing up and we learned a lot from him. It’s amazing how many decisions I’ve had to make where I flash back to a decision I saw him make. A lot of your ethical foundation starts when you are a kid, and you learn from your parents based on how they responded to things that came up in their life.”

What other influences helped develop your ethics?

“I’ve had some very good mentors along the way. They pointed me in the right direction when I could have easily gone the wrong way. I learned very quickly you must have a core set of principals that guide how you live your life. This core, or ethical behavior, should not change with time. You must live your life according to those core principals.”

Are there specific core values that are most important to you?

“As you build your career you have to give yourself some basis for why you’re doing what you’re doing. When I was younger a lot of it was about money. When I first got out of college it was all about getting a job. Once I got married I had a little different priority. I had to be able to put a roof over our heads. When we had kids, the values changed a little bit more. It got to be that I had to have a quality place for my kids to be raised. So then I was worried about schools and crime and a lot of things I wasn’t worried about before I had children.” “There will come a time when you are asked to do something and you get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach and you just know it’s the wrong thing to do. That’s your core. That’s your focus. That’s that line in the sand you don’t cross.”

What is the ethical culture like at the Omaha Chamber?

“The ethical environment here is established as part of our Mission and Vision. The Mission was developed by our board of directors, but the vision was developed by our entire staff. It was important to involve the staff in defining what they want the organization to look like in the future.”

“The staff was also involved in developing our Values: Vision, Passion, Excellence and Family. The most important value to me is Family. The family value speaks to how we are expected to treat each other. This value means we will respect each other, communicate with each other and work hard for each other. Our hope is this value not only influences how we act at work but also at home as a result of being an employee here.”

Could you describe some ethical situations you’ve had to deal with, one that was an easy decision and one that was more complex?

“The simplest example dealt with a company we were considering for an economic development project. My wife and I flew out to California to meet with them and every chance they got they tried to give us wads of cash, saying it was for ‘expenses’ or anything else they could come up with. We always declined. After the trip we never contacted them again. They put us in a very uncomfortable situation and I knew they were not the type of people we wanted to work with.”

“A more difficult ethical situation was during the legal debates for gambling in Omaha. On the one side we have members that are very supportive of the jobs and investment that comes as a result of gambling. On the other hand, I have a lot of members that are philosophically opposed to the whole concept of gambling. We had to work a process where we could find a middle ground somewhere. I found over time that my gut wasn’t comfortable on either side of this equation. I felt, and our board felt, that it would be unethical for us to represent to the public that we had a consensus of our members that gambling was either good or bad. We came back with a list of things we felt were important on the issue. So while we couldn’t take a pro or con decision, we are sure that these are their concerns.”

What do you like most about your job?

“I like making a difference, I can get things done here. I enjoy seeing projects the chamber had something to do with make a difference in the community. I tell out employees that if they ever get down, they should remember that. There are more than 20,000 people in the community that are working because of the work we do for economic development here at the Chamber.”

Do you feel uncomfortable talking about ethics?

“I don’t. If ethics is important to me personally and it’s important to our organization’s success then I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable talking about it to my employees, to my board members or to students.”

What are ethical challenges that face young business professionals today?

“Young professionals will be exposed to a lot of different people early in their careers. Some people will have the same core values and some with opposing core values. They must learn how to deal with both of them. The key is to understand the ethical beliefs of people and make a choice on how often you are going to expose yourself to those people. Key is to be careful who you associate with because it reflects on you.”