Nebraska Better Business Bureau

An Interview with Mr. Jim Hegarty, President and CEO of the Nebraska Better Business Bureau, Business Ethics Alliance Trustee, and member of the governing board of the Business Ethics Alliance
By Joey Creiglow and Matt Hansen, Creighton University MBA students

The Better Business Bureau’s values of excellence, integrity, teamwork, trust, and respect appear to be much more than just words in a mission statement.  Within minutes of our arrival at the Nebraska Better Business Bureau Chapter office here in Omaha, it became evident that these values are alive within the organization.

“How have your upbringing and family values influenced your ethical development?”

Mr. Hegarty’s ethical development began at a young age and was heavily influenced by both his parochial education and by strong, value based leaders.  These leaders range from his mother, a hard-working and religious woman (as Mr. Hegarty proudly stated, his mother had “no blurred lines between right and wrong”), to Mr. Ron Graham, a member of the Better Business Bureau hall of fame and former President of the Minnesota and North Dakota Better Business Bureau.  These moral role models have proved invaluable in Mr. Hegarty’s ethical development. In addition to this, throughout his life Mr. Hegarty has made and maintained strong connections with professional peers both inside and outside the BBB who have provided a source of moral guidance and ethical support.

“What does the term ‘ethics’ mean to you?”

To Mr. Hegarty, ethics is a moral code or a set of standards by which you choose to live.  It is “doing the right thing when no one is watching” or even when you will suffer a penalty for doing so.

“Is there a difference between personal ethics and business ethics?”

Mr. Hegarty responded that he believed personal ethics and business ethics to be similar (in that your personal system of beliefs and values will influence business decisions just as it would personal decisions) but different in that personal core values may not always align with the ethical values of an organization.  Uncomfortable situations arise when there is a disparity between these two sets of morals, which is why employees should strive for a good ‘fit’ when they are choosing employers.

“Do organizations make their employees ethical, or do employees make their organizations ethical?  Stated differently, what is the source of ethics in organizations?”  

“I believe an organization that has formal ethics policies in place, makes a concerted effort to educate its employees regarding the value it places on ethical conduct, and models ethical conduct from the top down, greatly enhances the commitment its employees will have to ethical behavior.”

“How do your organization’s values compare with those outlined by the Ethical Omaha Project and the Business Ethics Alliance? (Accountability, Community Responsibility, Financial Vitality, Integrity, and Moral Courage)?”

Mr. Hegarty focused on the Better Business Bureau’s core mission.  At its heart, the Better Business Bureau is an organization that strives to further the cause of ethics, honesty, and integrity in business.  It focuses on advancing marketplace trust by setting standards for that trust, encouraging businesses to meet those standards, celebrating those that do, and bringing those that do not into the public eye.  The Better Business Bureau’s core values (excellence, integrity, teamwork, trust, and respect) are heavily connected to business ethics and are compatible with the Ethical Omaha Project and the Business Ethics Alliance’s set of business core values.   

“What is a difficult ethical situation that you have faced during your career?”

Mr. Hegarty’s first thought was dealing with criticism of the BBB and unbalanced reporting in the wake of the 20/20 report on the failings of the Los Angeles BBB chapter.  In the report, 20/20 told the story of various Los Angeles businesses that were unhappy with the way the chapter allocated ratings and accreditations, and believed that businesses were being rewarded for paying BBB membership dues. 

Mr. Hegarty acknowledged that the Los Angeles chapter did make some mistakes. There were problems with their rating and accreditation process, and the chapter was eventually expelled from the national body of the BBB.  Unfortunately, media coverage at the time failed to acknowledge the fact that this was an isolated incident.  Due to the segmented nature of the BBB, other individual chapters had nothing to do with the L.A. chapter’s wrongdoing. 

The unbalanced reporting and negative press from this situation resulted in intense media and public pressure; Mr. Hegarty and the leaders of other BBB chapters were forced to either apologize for mistakes they didn’t makeor stand up for themselves.  The vast majority of chapters publically denounced the accusations.

Mr. Hegarty is proud to say that the issues in Los Angeles did not affect our Nebraska BBB chapter in a negative way.  The problematic irregularities didn’t exist in Omaha and community support for the chapter did not falter.  It is also important to mention that the national news stories did not lead local media to paint this chapter in a negative light. 

Still, the public perception that arose has been tough to combat.  Before moving on, we asked Mr. Hegarty for his perspective.

“How do you reconcile the need for impartiality in providing business ratings with the Better Business Bureau’s financial needs?”

Simply put, “There is no connection between ratings and fees paid by BBB accredited businesses that support the BBB’s mission.”

“Does the Better Business Bureau’s mission’s focus on ethics strengthen internal ethics within the organization?”

Mr. Hegarty believes fervently that it does. “I can think of few organizations where it is more vital to ‘walk the talk.’”  He explained that BBB employees understand that their mission drives them to be leaders in marketplace trust. “We need to hold ourselves to the same standards we hold our businesses to.”      

It seems that the BBB embodied this principle in its response to the removal of the Los Angeles chapter.  For almost a year (until surrounding chapters could absorb the former chapter’s function) BBB employees around the country volunteered their time to operate a virtual BBB for Los Angeles, showing a strong commitment to organizational values and a great degree of social responsibility.

“What is one ethical situation that you have faced during your career that seemed easy?”

Mr. Hegarty’s answer was surprising: the decision to revoke BBB Accreditation from the Nebraska chapter’s largest dues-paying member.  While he stated that it was certainly a challenging decision to carry out, it was not difficult from an ethical standpoint as acting in any other fashion would have gone against the BBB’s core values.

“What are the biggest ethical challenges facing young business professionals today?”

His immediate response revolved around the importance of social media and how you portray yourself. “Social media creates intense pressure – there cannot be disparity between personal and business life.”  Mr. Hegarty challenged young professionals to behave (at all times) as if whatever they are doing will be on the front page of the newspaper the next day. 

Mr. Hegarty feels that finances are too often at the center of many young professional’s motivations.  He believes that we as a society put too much emphasis on financial goals as a means of satisfaction, and discussed the importance of doing what is gratifying and enjoyable.

“Do you think that it is ethical for businesses to seek information about employees' or potential candidates' personal lives through their social media profiles?”

“Depending on the position a person holds or is seeking employment for, it may be reasonable for employers to consider information that is available on social media. I believe employers have an ethical responsibility to make employees aware of their practices and policies regarding the monitoring of social media.”

“Can you think of examples of things relating to your professional career that you are not proud of or you wished had gone differently?”

Mr. Hegarty’s response focused on the balance between personal and professional life.  “You know what they say, ‘No one ever looks back on their life and says they wished they’d spent more time at the office.” 

He explained the high value that the BBB placed on family and faith, stating that employees’ home lives and spiritual convictions must always be valued.  

Mr. Hegarty is a man who is grounded in a strong moral foundation. His ethical values reflect the mission of the Better Business Bureau, and are embodied in the decisions he makes.  The Nebraska Better Business Bureau Omaha chapter holds itself to the same standards it expects of its accredited businesses and actively helps maintain and improve business ethics within the Omaha Business Community.