Two weeks after September 11, 2001, CEO Chris Pape of Monroe Litho was faced with the reality that the company, by that time part of a larger out of state-based corporation and no longer private, was about to be shuttered as part of a 15-plant closing. Monroe Litho was successful, but too small for the corporation to keep.
Eight people at Monroe Litho, including Pape, decided to buy the company. Having built up the employee skill sets since he began managing operations in 1998, Pape said he knew it could be done if they could keep everyone on board. Only one employee left to take another job.
“We took it back to private ownership and turned Monroe Litho into a locally owned success story again – we really saved 89 jobs that were on the line, but I didn’t do it alone,” says Pape.
A year later, Monroe Litho was nominated for an ETHIE.
“After reading the criteria, I felt that we already fit and it was time to put it down on paper. An employee committee prepared it all – I said to them ‘it will be your words, not mine.’ The easy part was deciding to do it, but I wouldn’t have done it had it not been for the employees,” says Pape of the ETHIE application process.
Though Monroe Litho was not an ETHIE recipient in 2003, they tried again in 2004.
Pape says, “The hardest part was giving the employee committee enough time, because they wanted the application ‘just so.’ And we learned a lot in 2003.”
When re-applying in 2004, the Monroe Litho employee committee expanded on explaining the company culture. They were more descriptive about their culture and more specific about how the company would respond to an ethical challenge. That type of detail, or lack thereof, was something that Pape noted on applications he would later review while serving on the RABEF Judging Committee.
“During the process, I learned how people worked here felt about the company – it was a valuable lesson: Never assume everyone is happy,” says Pape of how going through the application process was beneficial for Monroe Litho.
Another result of the process was the development of a company Safety Committee that includes input from employees at all levels of the business. Monroe Litho is currently 1 million hours accident-free. The Sustainability Team, whose ideas have netted industry-wide recognition for the company, also developed during the ETHIE process.
“The great ideas for the company comes from our people.”
Pape believes that the strong connotation of ethics – that there is no neutral – is a good starting point to go in and examine issues that must produce a clear “right or wrong” response.
“If you involve everyone at all levels,” observes Pape, “you might discover something going on against core beliefs, and now you have a chance to fix it, like a tune up. We did find things we had to question and fix – not big, but they were there. The process of exploring your culture can be a big eye opener.”
“We started off to prove to ourselves the kind of company we had, and found out we have a very good company.”
“Receiving the ETHIE hasn’t changed us, but reminds us to involve everyone. We are always looking for ways to do things better. Being an ETHIE recipient is a strong statement… it says that we are a good company for employees and customers. People notice that we have an ethics award.”
Serving as a judge for 3 years, Pape recognized that some nominees viewed the ETHIE initially as a marketing award, but some took it as a serious challenge to carefully examine their company culture in all cases learned that the most valuable part of the program was the process they each went through. Those did that were the companies who became ETHIE recipients.