Making Construction a Stronger Industry

Construction Industry Ethics and Compliance Initiative (CIECI)

This year, the Construction Industry Ethics and Compliance Initiative (CIECI) is celebrating its tenth anniversary as a leading non-profit organization dedicated to improving the compliance and ethics practices of the construction industry. Members are leading construction industry companies that are dedicated to the highest standards of ethical behavior.
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CIECI has 48 members that are representative of design-build firms, architects, engineers, general contractors, specialty contractors, and subcontractors. The initiative was established with the mission to develop a process by which the industry could promote and encourage the adoption of methods that ensure legal compliance and high ethical standards.

“It was started by a number of CEOs of 13 major construction companies some years ago. We were concerned that the industry did not have a centrally focused entity where we could express best practices with one another and talk about industry trends and concerns,” explained Matt Walsh, co-chairman of The Walsh Group.

“The 13 founding members represent a major component of the U.S. construction industry with almost $50 billion in annual revenue between us combined,” he continued. “So it’s a substantial number of businesses who are having a major part of the industry’s focus.”

“We wanted to make sure that we brought ethics and compliance to a higher level, and we thought if we could do that, we would be helping the industry,” added Robert E. Alger, president and CEO of Lane Industries. “We looked at the defense industry’s model and used it as a starting point to develop our program.” This helped get the organization off the ground.

CIECI accepts new members who meet the organization’s established criteria, requiring them to have and adhere to a written code of business conduct. Prospective members are vetted by a Steering Committee to confirm they meet the CIECI’s guiding principles which include a commitment to training personnel to achieve personal responsibilities in accordance with the established code of conduct.

Mr. Walsh noted that this is important on a corporate and personal level for firms like his that have a family name attached to the company’s reputation. “If you think about our members, many of them have the names of the founding families in the company name. So certainly at our firm, at Walsh Group or Walsh Construction, that is absolutely the case. That is our family name, and we want to be absolutely certain with our 10,000 employees across North American that all of them are acting every day in a manner our wives and children and parents would be proud of, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”

“We turned down some prospective members. We didn’t think they acted in the best interest of the organization or the industry, and we have not allowed them to become members. It’s not easy to get in. You have to show that you’re willing to ‘walk the walk’ in order to get into this organization,” said Mr. Alger of the rigorous application process.

One of the ways that CIECI works to achieve a better industry is through the organization’s annual best practices forum which will take place October 1 and 2, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. “We have two events a year: one in Washington, DC in the spring and one in the fall, and they are the principal means by which we attract our peers and our members together,” Mr. Walsh noted. The forums offer members a way to share best practices, and resources are made available to help members adapt to changing regulations and standards as the industry evolves, enabling them to address and mitigate the risks that are characteristic of the construction industry.

“There are really two mechanisms to support that dialogue: one is members talking to other members about challenges, best practices, pitfalls and lessons learned, so it’s a lot of facilitating a setting where that kind of dialogue and learning can take place,” explained Peter Eyre, CIECI’s coordinator.

“The second is bringing in speakers, thought leaders – some from the government, some from other industries – so we can learn about how others are doing it, because we don’t pretend to have all the answers for this industry. Nor do we pretend to be aware of all the challenges. So it’s important to have that outside force as well to help us move forward on this journey.”

CIECI’s 2018 spring conference took place May 2, 2018, in Washington, DC. The event drew record attendance and strong CEO participation. It featured a guest speaker, and focused on: cybersecurity and strategies and techniques to mitigate risk; and how to deter and detect sexual harassment while creating a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up.

The initiative facilitates the flow of information and works to educate its members about industry trends and changes at the corporate, compliance, and government/legislative levels. As Mr. Alger stated, “I don’t think there is anyone that can keep up with everything, but with everybody doing their homework and coming to these meetings prepared, we all learn something we can implement back into our companies.”

“One of our purposes is to make sure that all of our members are well informed about what is going on in Washington or state governments in the various venues that might affect our members. And first, make sure they are out there and secondly, what they need to do to be actively participating to make sure they are doing the right thing,” said Mr. Walsh.

“Our consistent goal is to heighten the effectiveness of all of our members in terms of their ability to be compliant and to act in an ethical fashion across their entire organization and to be a sounding board and a learning environment for our members where we can learn from one another and teach each of us to be more effective,” he continued.

CIECI does not lobby the government or endeavor to influence the laws and regulations to which the industry and its members are subject, but it does take a leadership role in various issues that are pertinent to its members and the future of the industry. These issues can vary from larger corporations to smaller entities.

It covers issues related to small business challenges, disadvantaged enterprise regulations, reporting and compliance, how to deal with social media, and how to make training more effective for the benefit of its members and the industry.

“If there is an issue that comes up where you either have a whistleblower or someone else making allegations of non-compliance, you deal with that investigation coherently and purposefully,” Mr. Walsh explained.

While its mission has remained steadfast throughout the years, the issues it turns its attention to have changed as the industry changes. “I think the CEO focus and the core mission has remained unchanged. Obviously there was been evolving priorities and issues and topics that we continue to assess, but the purpose and structure has been without change,” said Mr. Eyre.

“The original charter was written to be flexible enough so that if new issues or new concerns came up in the industry, we would be able to address those, and that seemed to work out well,” Mr. Walsh explained.

One of the organization’s greatest strengths its chief executive focus. Especially as a volunteer organization, CIECI gains great strength from the chief executives who are actively engaged in its vision for a better industry.

“The CEO commitment and the tone that is set by having involvement at that level means that when people come, they invest more. When people talk, there is more active listening. It shows the attendees that this really matters and makes a difference,” said Mr. Eyre.

“That is a key thing that separates this organization from others: it’s been effective. When I have an opportunity to talk with members about their compliance and ethics journey, there is a lot of taking the CIECI teachings and learnings and putting them into practice, so it really does have a day-to-day impact, and it’s something we are all very proud of.”

CIECI works to create a model of what ethical leadership looks like. “One of our principal objectives is not only to learn and teach one another but to be an industry spokesman for smaller firms that may not have the same level of resources or sophistication so they can learn from us,” said Mr. Walsh.

“It’s not proprietary,” Mr. Alger noted. “What we’re all trying to do is to make the industry better so we can share some best practices from some of the larger companies that are involved and are a lot more evolved.” CIECI can help morality be embedded into the very culture of its members and of the industry.

After ten years of proven success, CIECI looks to continue its good work making the construction industry a better industry for all. Its focus helps it to strengthen the integrity of its members for the benefit of both the industry and the end-users of the projects members build.

Industry Changemakers

The construction industry has historically been slow to evolve, drawn to tradition over technology. As the industry is in a state of rapid innovation and advancement, organizations like the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) are working tirelessly to build strong member businesses that won’t fall behind.

June 17, 2019, 7:50 AM EDT