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July 19, 2007

New Perspectives

Bringing Ethics to Light

by Professors Larry Chonko and Buddy LaForge


In this month’s Academic Forum, professors Larry Chonko and Buddy LaForge talk to Doris Christopher, Founder and Chairman of The Pampered Chef, about promoting industry ethics. Contact Larry and Buddy at professors@directsellingnews.com.

 

Larry: It was good to see you at the Direct Selling Association’s Annual Meeting in San Diego. As usual, there were so many people to catch up with and so much to learn.

Buddy: The sessions I attended were very informative. I know we both had a number of interesting conversations with folks from the industry.

Larry: That’s always one of the highlights. Speaking of highlights, this month we are pleased to present a conversation with Doris Christopher, founder and chairman of The Pampered Chef. Doris is one of direct selling’s leaders in the area of ethics.

Buddy: She has gone “the extra yard” to promote ethical business behavior in her company and the industry.

Larry: Doris, thanks for being with us today.

Doris: You’re welcome, and thanks to you and Buddy for doing this column and inviting me to participate.

Larry: Our first question is, How would you respond to the following: The pursuit of success is much less important than the pursuit of significance (doing things of real value that solve real problems)?

Doris: One of the tips I give to people is to find something with a purpose that goes beyond earning a living, beyond just supporting yourself. Personal fulfillment and helping others will motivate you to do your very best.

Buddy: Tell us how that applies to your vision for The Pampered Chef.

Doris: Discovering this purpose for myself is what helped me begin The Pampered Chef. In 1980 I had a simple goal. I wanted to re-enter the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom for eight years. I wanted to find a meaningful job with a flexible schedule. I wanted a job that would work around my family schedule, and I quickly found that priority dramatically limited my career options. But most of all, I wanted to make a difference.

Larry: You certainly have in the lives of many.

Doris: Thank you. To make a long story short, the best option turned out to be starting my own business. My husband, Jay, and I had many conversations about what promise The Pampered Chef brand would deliver. I wanted a business whose purpose and products would help bring families together through shared mealtimes—something I valued then and now. I believed I could do this by teaching others to use quality kitchen tools through Cooking Shows. I also wanted every aspect of my company to represent what I valued most—integrity, determination, hard work and respect for others. These were the values that my parents and others had instilled in me. The real benefit of The Pampered Chef business is the carry-over effect that the Cooking Show has on the family. Mealtime becomes easier with our tools, techniques and recipes. Shared meals do strengthen family and friendship bonds.

Buddy: As teachers, we are constantly telling our students about the importance of values in a business. Were these the kind of thoughts you had at the very beginning of The Pampered Chef idea?

Doris: Yes. When I started The Pampered Chef, my focus was offering products, information and service that would benefit others. I hoped that doing good for others would also prove to be good for business. As it turned out, my premise was correct.

Larry: How does having a strong ethics program allow The Pampered Chef to create an advantage in the marketplace?

Doris: Since 1980, The Pampered Chef has built a solid reputation for excellence by continuing to offer our customers the services and products they’ve come to expect and value. The Pampered Chef is known throughout the world as having a strong commitment to ethics and integrity.

Buddy: We know that commitment goes well beyond simply having a code of ethics. Codes of ethics provide rules, in a sense, for behavior. They specify behaviors to follow, penalties for transgressions, actions of compliance officers. How does The Pampered Chef go beyond the rules in promoting an ethical climate for its people?

Doris: I believe direct selling, our chosen method of going to the market, requires the highest level of integrity. We conduct our business in the homes of others; we are a guest along with the other guests our hosts invite. We get to know their family and friends, and share personal and professional insights and strategies for successful mealtimes. Trust is absolutely essential. The highest level of ethics is also essential.

Larry: Can you describe how you infuse ethics into the everyday aspects of business at The Pampered Chef?

Doris: We live our ethics practices in the day-to-day business of The Pampered Chef. From the initial Consultant Agreement to the sales receipts used to complete a transaction to our Solution Center that’s staffed to answer questions or address concerns our consultants have with their business, we provide exceptional tools for our consultants. Consultants are given two months to meet sales requirements, providing a grace period that allows for work-life balance. As a Berkshire Hathaway company, The Pampered Chef sends a code of ethics letter directly to each co-worker’s home annually.

Buddy: An ethics culture like that is great for your customers.

Doris: Our customers know they can count on the quality of Pampered Chef products, excellent customer service, and the transparency of our guarantees and return policies.

Larry: What is The Pampered Chef’s company vision, and how does this help promote a climate of ethical behavior?

Doris: At The Pampered Chef we have a vision that someday families all around the world will know the joy and rewards of gathering together in the tradition of family mealtimes. To help make this vision a reality, ethics must be at the core of our daily business—from the quality of our products to the support and training we provide our consultants.

Buddy: Has your company’s mission changed as times have changed?

Doris: Our company’s mission has been the same for more than 20 years: “The Pampered Chef is committed to providing opportunities for individuals to develop their God-given talents and skills to their fullest potential for the benefit of themselves, their families, our customers, and the company. We are dedicated to enhancing the quality of family life by providing quality kitchen products, supported by service and information for our consultants and customers.”

Buddy: How does The Pampered Chef create a sustainable and enduring asset when its people focus on how things are done and there is trust that the “hows” will be done right?

Doris: At The Pampered Chef, everything we do or say reinforces our values and brand promises, from the recipes we develop in our Test Kitchens to the products we design to the way we talk about our brand to the Cooking Show experience. A brand image is the total of every memory, impression and experience our customers, and potential customers, have of our brand. It takes creativity, discipline and dedication to stay true to our values and brand promise in all that we do. Our mission statement continues to be a foundation for our actions.

Larry: Earlier you mentioned Berkshire Hathaway. How do the integrity of management and the management of integrity relate to each other in the daily operations of The Pampered Chef?

Doris: As you may know, in October 2002 the Pampered Chef became a proud member of the Berkshire Hathaway family. I greatly admire and respect Warren Buffett for his integrity, honesty and solid business ethics. Mr. Buffett relies on traditional values—strong values such as integrity, honesty and trust.

That is especially true when it comes to The Pampered Chef’s management team. Warren Buffett’s philosophy is to keep good people in place, period. Ethics at The Pampered Chef has meant more than honesty. It’s meant real leadership, and I’m very proud of everyone who is part of the company.

Buddy: What are your thoughts on the following: To be effective, codes must be living documents not just something to hang on a company wall?

Doris: Codes must be lived—demonstrated in the day-to-day operations of the company—to be effective. Our ethics are at the core of every decision we make at The Pampered Chef.

Larry: How does the Internet place a new, and perhaps revolutionary, emphasis on how companies do things?

Doris: Technological change is occurring at an exponential rate that dwarfs all change in the past. With this in mind, no viable company can remain at a standstill. Great companies withstand the test of time by adapting to change.

While the Cooking Show is the foundation on which The Pampered Chef does business, the Internet is a very important vehicle. It is another avenue through which The Pampered Chef and our consultants can communicate with customers. And it’s an opportunity for new customers to discover Pampered Chef products, connect with a consultant or learn about the business opportunity. But the same values must be as evident on the Web as they are in the personal aspects of the Pampered Chef’s business model.

Buddy: Doris, it has been a pleasure visiting with you about the importance of ethics at The Pampered Chef.

Doris: I’ve enjoyed our conversation, and I hope readers will benefit from some of the thoughts shared here.

Larry: I am sure they will. Thanks again for taking time to have this important conversation with us.

 

Raymond (Buddy) LaForge is the Brown-Forman Professor of Marketing at the University of Louisville. Larry Chonko is Thomas McMahon Professor in Business Ethics at the University of Texas at Arlington. E-mail your questions and comments to professors@directsellingnews.com.