Top Places to Work | Ethics

Class acts

As pressure rises on companies to be better corporate citizens, these firms lead by example

MathWorks encourages employees to explain the reasoning behind their decisions. (Michelle McDonald / Globe Staff Photo) MathWorks encourages employees to explain the reasoning behind their decisions.
By Robert Weisman
Globe staff / November 9, 2008
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When she joined the Waltham staffing firm Winter, Wyman Cos. four years ago, Melissa Cappas shadowed a senior account manager. As he talked to a client about a problem, she heard him tick off the steps he'd take to help, but add that he couldn't guarantee results.

"A lot of people in the staffing industry make a lot of promises," said Cappas, now a manager herself. "This told me we have to be honest with people."

Winter, Wyman's "shadow" program is one example of the ways companies are seeking to instill values in employees at a time when pressure is increasing on businesses to act ethically and transparently.

"If you have a stain on your reputation, you're not going to be able to attract customers or recruit employees," warned Sandra Waddock, senior research fellow at the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College's Carroll School of Management.

Here are how three companies impart values:

Headquarters: Waltham

"Straight shooting" and "giving back" are part of the lexicon at Winter, Wyman.

Winter, Wyman, which helps other businesses recruit accountants, software engineers, and other specialists, asks job candidates for a self-assessment that includes character and values. After each customer engagement, the firm sends letters to its clients soliciting feedback and shares the results - favorable or not - with its employees. And the firm offers employees volunteer opportunities, from helping with the Special Olympics to working at inner-city day care centers.

Bob Boudreau, the chief executive, talked about integrity at a recent Winter, Wyman quarterly meeting. "This is really the essence of who we are," he said. "When you look at your business, all you have is your name."

He urges Winter, Wyman's recruiters to be honest with employers and job seekers. "In the end, sometimes it's better for everyone to walk away from a deal than to make a placement," Boudreau said.

Headquarters: Boston

A financial services firm, Eaton Vance Corp. spends some of its employee orientation sessions talking about its code of conduct and core values.

"We evaluate all of our employees on these values as part of their year-end evaluations," said Mark Burkhard, director of human resources. He said the measures include everything from following guidelines on trading securities to displaying ethical and professional conduct in the office.

Eaton Vance puts all employees through training on complying with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which governs how public companies report financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The law went into effect to guard against accounting abuses like those at Enron Corp. early in the decade.

"All of the values we promote have a consistent theme," Burkhard suggested. "We feel that if we're conducting business in an ethical manner, it will contribute to our business success."

Headquarters: Natick

MathWorks, a 25-year-old engineering software company, promotes a "rational workplace" environment that encourages employees to explain their decisions.

While its products are based on mathematical modeling, the company was less scientific in its early years in how it passed on its values. More recently, those values have been formalized and frequently articulated. They are part of the interview part of the orientation, and part of the performance management system.

"In any software company, you want to be honest about what the product can and can't do," said Jeanne O'Keefe, chief finance officer. "You want to be transparent about your pricing and business terms. Engineers rely on our products."

Values and ethics are a particularly important part of management training at MathWorks. "In the negotiating class, we talk about making sure our managers have integrity," O'Keefe said.

Robert Weisman can be reached at

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