2013 is the 70th anniversary of one of the greatest individual seasons in pro football. In 1943, Sammy Baugh, playing for the Washington professional football team, had what Sports Illustrated said one of the greatest season’s a player has ever sustained. Playing at time when football players played both ways and usually the entire game, Sports Illustrated detailed the following of Baugh’s accomplishments:
- He completed 55.6 percent of his passes, best in the NFL that year.
- He threw 23 touchdowns passes, second in the NFL—and third-highest all-time to that point.
- As a defensive back, he had 11 interceptions, which broke another league record.
- He averaged an NFL-leading 45.9 yards a punt, often flipping the field with a well-timed quick kick.
- Five of his boots were longer than 70 yards.
- He had arguably the greatest single-game performance in history: In a 42-20 win over the Detroit Lions on Nov. 14, Baugh fired four touchdown passes, intercepted four passes and got off an 81-yard punt, the longest of the year in the NFL.
Baugh won and he won doing things the right way. I thought about his accomplishments when I read a recent article, entitled “Decisiveness Is a Double-Edged Sword”, in the Corner Office section of the New York Times (NYT) by Adam Bryant in his interview of David Cote, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Honeywell International Inc. In the article Cote explained that “Your job as a leader is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning.” Cote explained that he had a “reputation for being decisive. Most people would say that being decisive is what you want in a business leader. But it’s possible for decisiveness to be a bad thing. Because if you’re decisive, you want to make decisions — give me what you’ve got, and I’ll make a decision. I’d say that the lower you are in an organization, you can get away with a lot of that and you’ll be applauded for it.”
I found Cote’s approach a good way to explain the role of top corporate leadership in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program. When I meet with a new client I explain to the President or CEO what his or her role is in a compliance regime. It is to be a leader and not simply to set the right tone for doing business ethically and in compliance but also ‘walking the walk’ of compliance. In other words, continually reminding the troops to do business the right way.
Further, you have to turn your pride and emotions aside at times because “it’s important to be smart and to think about what’s important.” Cote said that one of the most important behaviors at Honeywell is that you have to get results “and you have to get them the right way.” I thought about the way that Cote phrased it, “and you have to get them the right way.” Cote wants his team to make their quarterly numbers but he wants it done the right way “with the right kind of processes” and those right kinds of processes are financial and compliance controls to help the company to do business the right way going forward.
I once worked for a company where a regional manager was alleged to have said the following: If I violate the Code of Conduct, I may or may not get caught. If I violate the Code of Conduct and get caught, I may or may not be disciplined. If I miss my numbers for two quarters, I will be fired. And guess what – that regional manager never missed his quarterly numbers. Further, he was promoted for his “great” work.
What type of message do you think that this un-named regional manager’s aphorism, his quarterly numbers and, most importantly, the company’s treatment of him going forward sent throughout the region? It was pretty clear that making your numbers is all that top management wanted communicated down through the organization. Conversely, I have heard a compliance professional from another company in the same sector say that it is the business unit’s leader’s responsibility to make the numbers within the structure of the company’s compliance regime. It is not up to the compliance function to figure out how the operations manager should do business but the other way around.
But, equally significant, is the difference in focus between Cote and this un-named regional manager. Cote’s has a long term perspective in place and is thinking long term. He is considering something beyond, weeks, months, the next quarter or even the next two quarters. What Cote said in the NYT piece is that one of the reasons he desires to have the right financial and compliance controls in place is so that “we can make the quarter three years from now and five years from now.” Our un-named regional manager has no such focus; he is only looking at the next sale in front of him because if he does not make his numbers he will be fired. I do not think there can be a stronger message from management than to make your numbers “the right way”.
Just as Slinging Sammy Baugh had a season for the ages some 70 years ago, your compliance program can achieve the goals of doing business the right way if you have a CEO like David Cote. He believes that it is important to get your decisions right and to do business the right way. That is a message that can be translated from senior management down to the middle and the bottom of a company. That is what a compliance practitioner can ask of his or her leaders.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2013