Angie Barnett brings the training and perspective of a social worker to her job as head of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. It's a relevant background in the business world, she has found.
"BBB is social work for business," said Barnett, the organization's CEO and president. "We're the objective third party, not a consumer advocate and not solely a business organization. We want to be a catalyst for trust between the buyer and the seller."
Barnett, who has led the group for 11 years, had found herself in similar roles in previous jobs heading nonprofits and working with families and children.
"Your job is to be objective, unbiased and to strengthen relationships, and we [at the BBB] do the same thing," she said.
Mediating disputes between consumers and businesses is just one service of the nonprofit, which marked its 100th anniversary last week. Relying on outside, trained arbitrators, the group resolves nearly all disputes it handles, about 50 a year.
Many involve complaints directed at automakers or home improvement contractors. So far this year, the BBB has handled 21 car purchase or repair complaints, Barnett said.
The BBB also offers accreditation to businesses that pass a review, meet standards for trust and agree to a code of business practices aimed at bolstering trust and confidence in the business.
In the Greater Maryland territory — all of the state except five counties in the Washington suburbs — 2,600 mostly small, Maryland-based businesses are accredited. Sparks-based spice maker McCormick & Co. Inc. and utility Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.have kept their BBB ratings for more than 75 years, while Rheb's Candy in Southwest Baltimore has kept its BBB stamp of approval for more than five decades.
Such services were not part of the original purpose of BBB, which was founded in Minnesota in 1914 and came to Maryland three years later in 1917. Back then, a Baltimore advertising committee monitored truth in advertising and worked to uncover false claims in ads.
"Its origins are in the belief that we want to create a marketplace for self-regulation," Barnett said.
The BBB continues in that role today, with the Greater Baltimore chapter taking on 100 ad review cases in 2016, asking businesses to substantiate claims sometimes flagged by consumers.
Barnett, who has a bachelor's degree in social work and a master's degree in sociology, moved to Maryland in 1987 from Arkansas, where she had been executive director of a nonprofit that helped pregnant teens stay in school and prepare to give birth. Before coming to BBB, she worked as executive director of other nonprofits, including a family support center in Elkton, and as vice president of membership for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.
At the BBB, her goals include remaining relevant in an the internet age.
"We want to be that go-to source as you are considering ... putting in a fence, buying a car or choosing a website designer," she said. "We want to give you resources to make the proper decisions."