The Jaindl Companies won the Societas Award for Responsible Corporate Conduct Thursday afternoon at DeSales University in Center Valley.

“It’s a great honor and I am certainly humbled by the award,” said David Jaindl, president of the companies, as he accepted it during an awards luncheon attended by 125 business leaders.

The second annual award was presented by The Forum for Ethics in the Workplace, an independent subsidiary of the university.

The other two finalist companies were the Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba law firm of Center Valley and Allentown-based Prudential Patt, White Real Estate.

Jaindl told the audience he did not prepare a speech because he didn’t anticipate winning when he learned about the other two finalists. “I know their integrity, I know their ethics-- they are top of the line,” he said.

“The three finalist companies we have today are models for the type of business we want in the Lehigh Valley,” said Kevin Flemming, who chairs the forum’s awards committee. He said becoming a finalist for the Societas Award is difficult, which means all three companies won a very high tribute.

The Societas Award is presented to a local company that demonstrates the best ethical business practices in its financial operations and compliance with the letter and spirit of business law, as well as “accountability of both management and employees and corporate social responsibility.”

While Jaindl’s large-scale development of farmland owned by his family often sparks great controversy and he has been demonized by some opponents of development, receiving the Societas Award had an interesting twist.

Jaindl told the audience he repeatedly was encouraged to apply for the award by Atty. Robert Rust, who is one of the lawyers currently appealing Lower Macungie Township’s approval of Jaindl’s 700-acre subdivision to the state Supreme Court.

Before leaving the stage, Jaindl thanked Rust, whom he introduced as opposing counsel “to our Lower Macungie project” – but also a friend. “You don’t normally hear those words in the same sentence,” he said.

Rust, who serves on the forum’s board of directors and was at the luncheon, called Jaindl “a man of his word, a man of integrity.”

Rust said he does not agree with Jaindl about what happened regarding the Spring Creek Properties subdivision, “but I have the highest respect for him.”

While all three finalists were represented at the luncheon, they did not know who won. Flemming said he was the only one in the room who knew before the winner was announced.

Winner of the first Societas Award was Lafayette Ambassador Bank, in 2011. The bank played a major role in making more local businesses aware of the award by using the honor on its billboards and in other advertising, said university spokeswoman Lore McFadden-Westwood.

No other award can take the place “of being recognized not so much for what you did, but how you did it,” said Gerald Nau, chairman and CEO of Lafayette Ambassador Bank. “We believe ethics are good business. It isn’t something that we do. Rather, it has become who we are.”

Nau said companies face continuous pressure to grow earnings “almost at any cost.”

He said financial news organizations will report if a company exceeded or failed to meet growth expectations, but rarely will report that a company “did the right thing. Only if somebody messes up do you hear about it.”

Nau said the Societas Award is important because it counters “the misconception that businesses today are the root of our country’s problems. In fact, in my industry the word ‘bank’ has become a four-letter word in the last three or four years.”

Flemming said companies go through “a long and tedious process” to apply for the award. They must submit detailed information about how they follow ethical business practices in their daily operations.

Judges for the second award were Hank Barnette, chairman emeritus of Bethlehem Steel, and Paul Huck, senior vice president and CFO at Air Products.

Flemming explained the winner is chosen by those judges using an objective, numerical scoring method developed by Dr. David Gilfoil, MBA program director at DeSales. That scoring is highly quantified, with multiple levels of measurement.

“The winner is the company with the highest numeric score.”

Flemming said ethical behavior within businesses is almost impossible to measure, but added: “We recognize it when we don’t see it.”

Each finalist company for the award was introduced by a DeSales student.

“The Jaindl family, and their group of companies, has been part of the evolution of our region for over 75 years,” said Matthew Pirrall, who has a double major in marketing and TV film. “With their record of strong business success in multiple industries, Jaindl is one of the select companies that can claim a direct role in building our area’s modern economic infrastructure.”