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Integrity Shouldn’t Be Breaking News

By Bob Priest-Heck

Whenever anyone asks me what makes Freeman so great, I always answer, “It’s the people. People are our killer app.” It may sound trite, but it’s the truth. And it’s not something I can take credit for. It’s Freeman’s culture, built over three generations. It’s grounded in a true, palpable set of values that has been steadfastly defended by the Freeman family and the many fine people who, over 93 years, have lived them every day.

Integrity is a core value that’s being put to the test in these hard times as people scramble for basic necessities and worry about their jobs coming back. It’s been said that integrity is what you do when no one is looking. Believe it. The difference between talking about integrity and having it is the difference between hoarding stuff and putting on a mask to deliver Meals on Wheels to the elderly and infirm.

A strong system of values has never been more important than right now, when the world is in upheaval. And at the risk of sounding biased, I have to say that Freeman’s people are showing that “values” are not things they search for when times get tough. Values are what they’ve been building on right along. Seeing what so many of our people are doing right now, during this pandemic, is humbling.

So, I can’t help but wonder when I hear people talking about integrity as if it’s somehow a news item — a panacea discovered to help cure COVID-19. I see well-meaning marketing messages, CEO and company letters and campaigns trying to convince customers that “they are there”, “that we are trustworthy” and “we will do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” I mean, yes please. Do that. But for the love of all that’s holy, do it every day!

For Buck Freeman and his progeny, the best time to establish solid values began 93 years ago and the commitment hasn’t faltered since. That’s because “values” aren’t a strategy, they’re a way of life. Stop any Freeman employee and they’ll tell you about the True Blue House (it’s how we describe our Freeman culture). It’s more than words on paper. It’s the lens we use every day to make important decisions that determine the course of business, the success of our customers and the effectiveness of our combined labor. Doing the right thing is standard operating procedure — not crisis control.

Of course, this company, like every other in the events industry, is under siege by the pandemic. That’s why I am so moved by the way our people have responded. Even though we have scaled back our operation until our customers can get back up and running, and our people are hurting, they have been incredibly supportive and gracious. And equally gratifying, our customers are reaching out, showing leadership, and acting with integrity. Not talking about it; doing it. Because that’s their core values as well.

As the legendary Peter Drucker famously remarked, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That’s not something you can just cook up in a crisis.

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