Angie Barnett is the president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. For over a century, BBB has provided people with reliable, unbiased information about the myriad businesses serving their local communities. The national BBB hosts reviews of millions of companies in the US, and facilitates hundreds of thousands of disputes between consumers and businesses each year. As an independent not-for-profit organization unaffiliated with any government entity, BBB seeks to improve standards of marketplace education and trust.
EDWIN WARFIELD: How did you wind up at BBB Greater Maryland?
ANGIE BARNETT: The career path for getting to Better Business Bureau—and I don’t think anybody ever has one straight direction, and if they do, bless their hearts that they can make that happen—so I feel mine was a very curvy path to get to where I am. I began in social work. That was my Master’s degree. I found that I was more of an enabler as opposed to empowering family and children, and needed to really get into the executive leadership position. That’s where I excelled.
I worked in nonprofits for children and family services for many, many years throughout my career, and one of the things that I found I could do is I could beg for money, I could write grants, I knew how to run a business on a shoestring budget, and could retain staff in very challenging difficult situations. I took those skill sets and joined Leadership Maryland—a wonderful opportunity to see all of Maryland. In the course of that year-long program, I became affiliated and acquainted with a dear friend, Kathy Snyder. Kathy was the CEO, now retired, of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. We’re having dinner, and she said, “come join me at the Maryland Chamber.”
I took the skills that I had in the nonprofit world, and to do any of these jobs you have to have some strength in relationship building—you have to have strength in relating to people, building those relationships for the purpose of creating wins. I took the skill set, started to work at the Maryland Chamber—a wonderful experience—being exposed to a business association, being exposed to a statewide business association—and I found myself very enamored with the small business community. The state chamber has both a mixture of the small and the large, and Kathy is so gifted. At the time, in her position, she was so beautifully gifted in working with corporations, and I really became fascinated with how in the world a small business owner survives in today’s world and what they have to overcome—their challenges.
Through the course of the Maryland Chamber, I had the opportunity to apply for this job, and it took some of the very fundamentals of social work—that is holding hands together, doing the right thing, looking before you cross the road—all those basic skills of just good human relationships between friends, co-workers, and families. I took that opportunity to work for a values-based, mission-based organization that is really of the same principle and that is “if you do the right thing for the right reason, you have good business.” You do the right thing for the right reason, you have good families, you have strong communities—but to be able to live out that principle through the Better Business Bureau work? Pretty remarkable.
Q. Can you give us some of BBB’s history?
A. The first BBB that was founded was actually in the state of Minnesota, 105 years ago. BBB Greater Maryland—we are about to celebrate our 100th anniversary in 2017—so exciting for us. How did BBB evolve? The history really is the basic foundation of truth in advertising. Think about it: a century ago, there were businesses, people promoting all kinds of things and using deceptive advertising practices. For example, they would not disclose that that elixir might cause harm as opposed to heal the things they were advertising. They would build upon—and actually, it was a courtroom battle between Pepsi Cola and Coca-Cola—they realized that they needed to focus on truth in advertising, so vigilance committees were formed across the country.
In Baltimore, there was an advertising vigilance committee that was formed. They evolved into the Better Business Bureau. They incorporated, again 100 years ago, but the foundation is that business should pay heed to truth in advertising. You need to believe in what they tell you, and when they fail to do so, one of the things you see happen is our government’s tendency is to swing over to regulations. When you break rules—and it can be in advertising—the government will put on heavier regulations. A second founding principle of BBB is truth in advertising and believing in self-regulation. If we all do the right thing for the right reasons we don’t need government interference.
The reason we care about that and makes business ownership, entrepreneurship complex. You have to wade through a lot of red tape. And those costs are actually passed onto the consumer or the customer eventually. It makes it very hard for any business, large or small. The two principles that we see ourselves founded upon is truth in advertising and the promotion of self-regulation.
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