From left, moderator Paul Gibbons, Alex Romero, Kynnie Martin, Joseph Bowens and Luis Roderiguez.

In polite circles, it’s considered bad form to put one’s guests on the spot. Fortunately, the panelists at last week’s Elevate Ethics event were prepared to be peppered with probing questions—all in the name of education, of course.

Daniels’ Institute for Enterprise Ethics hosted “Managing Business Relationships—With Integrity,” a panel discussion featuring young leaders at Denver-area companies that drew both graduate and undergraduate students to Marcus Commons on the evening of Oct. 16. Moderated by author, speaker and consultant Paul Gibbons, the panel included Joseph Bowens, business development manager at Zedi; Kynnie Martin, senior foundation representative for Xcel Energy; Luis Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Raisa Energy; and Alex Romero (MBA 2011), co-founder and CEO of LandRace Group.

The audience knew the gloves were off from the get-go when Gibbons declared, “Some of these conversations make people uncomfortable. You know what I say about that? Bring it on. There’s a saying in the organizational change world that, the thing that you don’t want to talk about is the thing you need to talk about the most. So sometimes the things that make you uncomfortable are the things that you most need to get on the table. Shine some light on them. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as they say. We’re going to do a little disinfecting today.”

One by one—at Gibbons’ urging—the panelists relayed situations they’ve experienced over the course of their respective careers, which ranged from awkward and unpleasant to blatantly unethical, before fielding questions from the audience. Their anecdotes included witnessing the misuse of grant funds, encountering rogue cannabis growers ignoring regulations, and souring a friendship by selecting the most qualified candidate for the job (i.e., not the friend).

But while their stories ran the gamut, the panelists’ were on the same page in terms of the advice they offered those in attendance.

“For me—and for the company—we narrow it down to three principles: integrity, a focus beyond ourselves and continuous improvement,” said Rodriguez about the lens he uses to consider operations internally at Raisa Energy. “If I take it externally, that lens broadens to a simpler framework, which is how can I instill transparency and trust with the person I’m doing business with? Trust in the competence of the person and trust in the character of the person.”

To understand the people with whom he does business, both internally or externally, Romero is a fan of background checks. “Doing due diligence on an individual creates a platform for the success of that business relationship moving forward.”

Using parlance she picked up during her military service, Martin encouraged students to do the “hard right vs. the easy wrong.” Bowens agreed. “It may sound cliché, but at the end of the day, do what’s right for the situation,” he urged. “Was it the right thing to do given the circumstances? It can be really tough but at the end of the day, for me personally, I have to determine whether or not I’m going to feel proud of the decision I made.”

Breaking things down to an even more simplistic level, Rodriguez said, “This might seem like a very simple construct to use but it’s one that helps me: Am I going to be proud telling my daughter about this 20 years from now? That actually keeps me quite honest about a lot of things, including the work I’m doing and the people I’m hiring.”

For more information about the Institute for Enterprise Ethics and upcoming events, visit enterpriseethics.org.