FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

April 23, 2014

Gifts, Travel and Entertainment Under the FCPA – Part II

Travel and GiftsEd. Note – I know yesterday I said this would be a two-part series but as usual I got carried away so it has become a three part series. Today I review the Opinion Releases and Enforcement Actions dealing with gifts, travel and entertainment.

A. Opinion Releases

  1. Gifts

In the early 1980s the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued three Opinion Releases related to gifts under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). While these Opinion Releases are clearly dated, they do remain instructive. In Opinion Release 82-01, the DOJ approved the gift of cheese samples made to Mexican governmental officials, made by the Department of Agriculture of the State of Missouri to promote the state of Missouri’s agricultural products. However the value of the cheese to be presented was not included. In Opinion Release 81-02, the DOJ approved a gift from the Iowa Beef Packers, Inc. to officials of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade of its packaged beef products. The total value of all the samples presented was estimated to be less than $2,000 and the Iowa Beef Packers, Inc. averred that the individual sample packages would not exceed $250 in value. In Opinion Release 81-01, Bechtel sought approval to use the SGV Group to solicit business on behalf of Bechtel and Bechtel had proposed to reimburse the SGV Group for gift expenses incurred in this business solicitation. The DOJ approved gifts to be given by SGV in the amount of $500.00.

  1. Travel and Lodging for Governmental Officials

 Prior to the FCPA Guidance, the DOJ issued three Opinion Releases which offered guidance to companies considering whether, and if so how, to incur travel and lodging expenses for government officials. These facts provided strong guidance for any company that seeks to bring such governmental officials to the US for a legitimate business purpose. In Opinion Release 07-01, the Company was desired to cover the domestic expenses for a trip to the US for a six-person delegation of the government of an Asian country for an educational and promotional tour of one of the requestor’s US operations sites. In the Release the representations made to the DOJ were as follows:

  • A legal opinion from an established US law firm, with offices in the foreign country, stating that the payment of expenses by the US Company for the travel of the foreign governmental representatives did not violate the laws of the country involved;
  • The US Company did not select the foreign governmental officials who would come to the US for the training program;
  • The delegates who came to the US did not have direct authority over the decisions relating to the US Company’s products or services;
  • The US Company would not pay the expenses of anyone other than the selected officials;
  • The officials would not receive any entertainment, other than room and board from the US Company;
  • All expenses incurred by the US Company would be accurately reflected in this Company’s books and records.

In Opinion Release 07-02 the Company desired to pay certain domestic expenses for a trip within the US by approximately six junior to mid-level officials of a foreign government for an educational program at the Requestor’s US headquarters prior to the delegates attendance at an annual six-week long internship program for foreign insurance regulators sponsored by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). In the Release the representations made to the DOJ were as follows:

  • The US Company would not pay the travel expenses or fees for participation in the NAIC program.
  • The US Company had no “non-routine” business in front of the foreign governmental agency.
  • The routine business it did have before the foreign governmental agency was guided by administrative rules with identified standards.
  • The US Company would not select the delegates for the training program.
  • The US Company would only host the delegates and not their families.
  • The US Company would pay all costs incurred directly to the US service providers and only a modest daily minimum to the foreign governmental officials based upon a properly presented receipt.
  • Any souvenirs presented would be of modest value, with the US Company’s logo.
  • There would be one four-hour sightseeing trip in the city where the US Company is located.
  • The total expenses of the trip are reasonable for such a trip and the training which would be provided at the home offices of the US Company.

Lastly, is Opinion Release 12-02, in which the Requestors, 19 non-profit adoption agencies located in the US, asked the DOJ about bringing certain foreign governmental officials involved in the foreign country’s adoption process to the US. All the foreign governmental officials were involved in the process of allowing children from their country go through the adoption process with the US non-profits involved. The trips to the US would be for two days of meetings. The purpose of the visit would be to demonstrate the Requestors’ work to the government officials so that the officials can see how adopted children from the foreign country had adjusted to life in the US and to help the Requestors learn how they can provide that information to the foreign country’s government with appropriate information during the adoption process. The Requestors would allow the government officials to meet with the Requestors’ employees and to inspect the Requestors’ offices and case files from previous adoptions. The foreign country’s government officials would also meet with families who had adopted children from their country and learn more about the Requestors’ work.

The Requestors stated that they would pay for the following:

  • Business class airfare on international portions of flights for ministers, members of the legislature, and the director of the Orphanage Agency; coach airfare for international portions of flights for all other government officials; and coach airfare for domestic portions of flights for all government officials;
  • Two or three nights hotel stay at a business-class hotel;
  • Meals during the officials’ stays; and
  • Transportation between agencies and local transportation.

What can one glean from these three Opinion Releases? Based upon them, it would seem that a US company could bring foreign officials into the US for legitimate business purposes. A key component is that the guidelines are clearly articulated in a compliance policy. Based upon these Releases the following should be incorporated into a compliance policy regarding travel and lodging:

  • Any reimbursement for air fare will be for economy class, unless it is a long haul international flight, high ranking foreign officials or those entitled to travel business class by contract.
  • Do not select the particular officials who will travel. That decision will be made solely by the foreign government.
  • Only host the designated officials and not their spouses or family members.
  • Pay all costs directly to the service providers; in the event that an expense requires reimbursement, you may do so, up to a modest daily minimum (e.g., $35), upon presentation of a written receipt.
  • Any souvenirs you provide the visiting officials should reflect the business and/or logo and would be of nominal value, e.g., shirts or tote bags.
  • Apart from the expenses identified above, do not compensate the foreign government or the officials for their visit, do not fund, organize, or host any other entertainment, side trips, or leisure activities for the officials, or provide the officials with any stipend or spending money.
  • The training costs and expenses will be only those necessary and reasonable to educate the visiting officials about the operation of your company.

Incorporation of these concepts into a compliance program is a good first step towards preventing any FCPA violations from arising, but it must be emphasized that they are only a first step. These guidelines must be coupled with active training of all personnel, not only on the compliance policy, but also on the corporate and individual consequences that may arise if the FCPA is violated regarding gifts and entertainment. Lastly, it is imperative that all such gifts and entertainment are properly recorded, as required by the books and records component of the FCPA.

B. Enforcement Actions

Mike Volkov refers to the FCPA Paparazzi when he talks about those FCPA practitioners who confuse FCPA information with FCPA scare tactics and manipulate legal reasoning and practical advice with “marketing” using fear as opposed to reliable and accurate information. In a recent blog post, entitled “The So-Called Re-Emergence of Gifts, Meals and Entertainment as a Compliance Problem” Volkov bemoaned recent FCPA Paparazzi client alerts which said that the DOJ was now gunning after companies for FCPA transgressions in this area.

But one point Volkov raised for consideration by the compliance practitioner was the overall management of these risks. He asked the following questions: “Who is responsible for approving expenditures? What controls are in place for ensuring that money is used for proper purposes? How are these expenditures monitored? Who watches the person responsible for controlling the money and what controls are in place to monitor their behavior?” All good questions, and all questions that the compliance function should be able to answer going forward.

While there were three of enforcement actions in 2013 and one in 2014 where gifts, travel and entertainment were discussed. In only one of the four such enforcement actions were gifts, travel and entertainment discussed, where over a period of 15 months these actions were the primary cause of the violation. That matter was the Diebold enforcement action. In all others, HP, Weatherford and Stryker, the gifts, travel and entertainment matters were all ancillary to the primary illegal conduct at issue. This is consistent with DOJ enforcement of the FCPA so Volkov rights notes, the FCPA Paparazzi are howling at the moon once again.

Travel and Entertainment Enforcement Expense Box Score

Company Trip Locations Trip Costs & Perks Company Facilities Present
Lucent Technologies DisneyWorld, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Universal Studios, NYC $10 million in trips for 1000 Chinese governmental officials, including $34,000 for five days of sightseeing None of the travel destinations
Ingersoll-Rand Trip to Florence after trip to company facility in Vignate, Italy $1000 ‘pocket money’ per attendee Facilities in Vignate but not in Florence
Metcaf & Eddy First trip – Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Orlando. Second trip – Paris, Boston and San Diego. First Class Travel and trip expenses for Egyptian governmental official and his family. Cash payments prior to trips of 150% of estimated daily expenses. Wakefield Mass., not in Washington DC, Chicago, Paris or DisneyWorld
Titan Corporation Reference in company books and records of $20,000 for promotional travel expenses. Not clear if ever funded (Remember a promise to pay equals making a payment under the FCPA)
UTStarcom Hawaii, Las Vegas and NYC Up to $7 million on gifts and all expense paid trips to US No company offices present in any of the travel destinations
Diebold Europe, with stays in:

  • Paris,
  • Amsterdam,
  • Florence,
  • Rome

In the US with visits to:

  • Disneyland,
  • Grand Canyon,
  • Napa Valley,
  • Las Vegas
$1.6MM to employees of Chinese state-owned banks; $175K to employees of Indonesian state-owned banks No company offices present in any of the travel destinations
Weatherford
  • Trip to Germany for the World Cup
  • Honeymoon for Sonatrach official’s daughter
  • Trip to Saudi Arabia for religious holiday
Payment of $24,000 in cash advance for Algerian government officials visiting Houston No legitimate business purpose for any of the business travel
Stryker NYC and Aruba $7000 for Polish gov official and wife No company offices present in any of the travel destinations
HP Las Vegas $35,000 in travel expenses paid for Polish gov official No company offices present in any of the travel destinations

Tomorrow we will tie it all together for you.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

April 22, 2014

Gifts, Travel and Entertainment under the FCPA – Part I

Travel and GiftsEd. Note-Today’s blog post will begin a two-part review of gifts, travel and entertainment under the FCPA.

One of the first thing that many companies will try to put in place is a gifts, entertainment and travel policy when looking at an overall compliance program. I find the reality to be that not only is this one of the more easier things to implement because one of the most consistent things taught at any organization, of one person or more, is to record the even and keep receipts. The base reason is not corporate or even Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) record keeping. It is IRS Regulations. Even lawyers know you have to keep receipts. This means getting employees to document, document and document, who they may have taken to dinner or entertained, the amount, the business purpose and if they were a foreign government official, their title, this does not seem like too much of a stretch to ask.

The part that does seem different, or new, to employees is the limit. By this I mean the amount of money which can be spent on a dinner, gift or entertainment without prior approval from the compliance function. For any expenditure above those predefined limits an employee must seek pre-approval from the compliance function prior to exceeding or incurring the expense.

An on-going debate is whether to take a hard and fast line over which all employees must come to the compliance function for pre-approval regarding any gifts and entertainment. Many sales people like this approach because they want to know precisely what the line is that they can go up to. Companies may take a more values-based approach, which looks at the overall value an employee may spend over a one year or other time period but the monitoring is at the backend of the transactions.

A rules based approach is one which generally sets a dollar threshold for gifts and entertainment in two general categories; they are gifts and entertainment for foreign governmental officials and gifts and entertainment for non-foreign governmental officials. Below the threshold, employees can provide gifts and entertainment without the need for pre-approval, above the threshold; employees have to seek pre-approval from the compliance function. Limits are typically lower for foreign governmental officials than non-governmental officials. The gift or entertainment request from the employee requires a reasonably detailed business purpose and the monetary request involved should not appear to be unreasonable.

The second approach is a more values based approach. It allowed the regions to set their own top end values to gifts and entertainment, based upon the nuances and risks of the geographic area. The responsibility of the compliance department in such a values based approach would be two-fold. The first would be to engage in more training for employees on gifts and entertainment issues. The second would be greater monitoring of employee gifts and entertainment.

Values based monitoring is more extensive than for rules based monitoring. If an employee goes above the overall company limit, the matter must be investigated through an independent review of the amount spent; who it was spent on and the business purpose. This must then be written up and the independent investigator must make a determination of whether a compliance issue violation has occurred. While this post-event work seems costly and disruptive to the business, company representatives say this works for them.

One of the interesting tangents in the area of gifts and entertainment is the issue of proportionality. Proportionality in the context of gifts and entertainment in anti-corruption compliance programs generally relates to the appropriate types of gifts or entertainment to be provided to a high-level company official. One rule of thumb is if the entertainment provided was typical for a company executive and that executive could routinely pay for it, this was indicia that it was reasonable if provided from one senior level executive to another. But you must remember about how such information will be viewed in the context of a FCPA investigation, as to what is reasonable or even ‘modest’ is usually very different than the view of a sales person.

A. The Statute

Under the FCPA, the following affirmative defense regarding the payment of expenses exists:

[it] shall be an affirmative defense [that] the payment, gift, offer or promise of anything of value that was made, was a reasonable and bona fide expenditure, such as travel and lodging expenses, incurred by or on behalf of a foreign official, party, party official, or candidate and was directly related to…the promotion, demonstration, or explanation of products or services; or…the execution or performance of a contract with a foreign government or agency thereof. 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1(c)(2)(A)-(B).

There is no de minimis provision. The presentation of a gift or business entertainment expense can constitute a violation of the FCPA if this is coupled with the corrupt intent to obtain or retain business.

B. FCPA Guidance

There was a good discussion of gifts and entertainment in the FCPA Guidance. In it the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) made clear that “A small gift or token of esteem or gratitude is often an appropriate way for business people to display respect for each other. Some hallmarks of appropriate gift-giving are when the gift is given openly and transparently, properly recorded in the giver’s books and records, provided only to reflect esteem or gratitude, and permitted under local law…”

Just as reasonably priced gifts are appropriate to give out, the FCPA Guidance specifies that “… Items of nominal value, such as cab fare, reasonable meals and entertainment expenses, or company promotional items, are unlikely to improperly influence an official, and, as a result, are not, without more, items that have resulted in enforcement action by DOJ or SEC.” However, as the costs and value begin to rise, so does the potential FCPA risk. The FCPA Guidance states, “The larger or more extravagant the gift, however, the more likely it was given with an improper purpose. DOJ and SEC enforcement cases thus have involved single instances of large, extravagant gift-giving (such as sports cars, fur coats, and other luxury items) as well as widespread gifts of smaller items as part of a pattern of bribes. For example, in one case brought by DOJ and SEC, a defendant gave a government official a country club membership fee and a generator, as well as household maintenance expenses, payment of cell phone bills, an automobile worth $20,000, and limousine services. The same official also received $250,000 through a third-party agent.”

The FCPA Guidance does specify some types of examples of improper travel and entertainment as follows:

  • $12,000 birthday trip for a government decision maker from Mexico that included visits to wineries and dinners;
  • $10,000 spent on dinners, drinks, and entertainment for a government official;
  • A trip to Italy for eight Iraqi government officials that consisted primarily of sightseeing and included $1,000 in “pocket money” for each official;
  • A trip to Paris for a government official and his wife that consisted primarily of touring activities via a chauffeur-driven vehicle.

The FCPA Guidance points out something that is rather obvious. If a company has a culture of compliance in the area of gifts, travel and entertainment that allows violations of the FCPA, it probably is lax in other areas. We recently saw this played out in the Hewlett-Packard (HP) FCPA enforcement actions where lax internal controls allowed HP-Poland to pay over $600,000 in cash to a Polish government official; pay for his travel to Las Vegas at full HP expense and also purchase him gifts valued at over $30,000. The gifts, travel and entertainment on their own could have been stand-alone FCPA violations but they were certainly symptomatic of an entire culture at HP-Poland, which allowed such conduct to occur.

Tomorrow we will review some enforcement actions and Opinion Releases.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

April 16, 2014

Tales from the Crypt-Rule No. 7-Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Filed under: Best Practices,compliance programs — tfoxlaw @ 7:30 am

Tales from the CryptEd. Note-I inadvertently ran Tale From The Crypt, Rule No. 8 out of order, so today we present Rule No. 7, which reminds us that Mom was right, actions do speak louder than words…

This Tale from our Crypt reminds us that over the years, you think you’ve heard it all and seen it all when it comes to abuse of expense accounts. One common thread however flows through the stories: Crime & Punishment are not always linked and often dependent on who you are as much as what you did. As we reminisced, several amusing stories came to mind…

As a young pup working in a small office of a much larger organization, I happened upon an “abuse in progress.” The employees wanted a refrigerator in their lunchroom. They put their heads together and the operations director came up with a brilliant idea. They would bring in receipts from home for personal expenditures of supplies, postage and the like, submitting them as petty cash expenses. They estimated it might take a couple of months to raise the required funds for their refrigerator. Good thing they had not actually submitted any receipts for replenishment of their petty cash fund when I caught wind of it. Their goal was admirable, keeping low paid but experienced workers warm and happy in a cold, snowy climate. But their methodology was designed to avoid possible refusal of their request because the office was a low performer. Nothing beats feet & ears on the ground.

It’s amazing what a sample can uncover. I’m personally a big proponent of statistical sampling because you can draw very powerful conclusions from relatively small investments of time. With that said, the experienced investigator or auditor has an amazing 6th sense for judgmental sampling. There was the marketing manager who submitted receipts for a new wardrobe and a whole set of Tupperware® reported as travel expenses related to a sales meeting he was in charge of planning. And yes, his manager had signed his approval of the expense report. Even though the purchases were not large, we were curious as to why the employee believed this to be valid travel expense (motives related to small issues sometimes indicate larger problems). Rather than bypassing this, we opted to review the spending with the employee. We got directly to the issue, showed him his expense report, and asked if he had submitted it. He responded that he had. We asked him if it was accurate as we were reviewing a group of expense reports. He stated that it was. Then we pulled out the receipts that he had attached and asked if they were his. He stated that they were. Then we called attention to while his expense report stated that the spending was for travel that the receipts were for other types of spending which appeared to be personal. The employee proceeded to explain that the spending was indeed for legitimate business expenses because he had established a dress code for the upcoming sales meeting which required everyone to wear black slacks and polo shirts. With a straight face, he went on to say that he had lost weight and no longer owned the self-required clothing and had to purchase proper attire to comply with his own rule! We had to bite our tongues not to lose it right then and there. So we proceeded to call his attention to the entire set of plastic food storage containers. Amazingly, he had an answer for that as well. This spending he had recorded as miscellaneous travel because he said his team was working late hours in preparation for the meeting and he had to bring in food from home to keep the team fed and happy and he did not have anything at home to use to carry it so, he bought the storage containers. We asked him why he recorded it as travel and he replied that was the only way he knew to be reimbursed. We explained that neither expenditure was acceptable as travel and not reimbursable by the company and that we would be back with him with the company’s intended actions. Then we met with the supervisor, who admitted that he never looked at the supporting receipts submitted for expense reports of those in his charge. Further, he assumed that his employees only would submit legitimate and authorized expenses. We presented our findings to Human Resources (HR) and General Counsel (GC) who jointly opted for the employee to reimburse the company for the personal expenses and a reprimand for the supervising manager, a well-respected member of sales management.

Over the years, I’ve seen other occasions, including a member of sales management entertaining customers and recording as meals; an evening of alcohol at a strip club in Mexico; a VP providing personal holiday gifts to various members of his organization hidden in travel expenses; and salesmen dressing up their leased company cars with trucks with “farkles” like custom steps, caps, wheels, and bed liner. The sad part about the thousands of dollars spent on unauthorized vehicle add-ons, besides management’s tacit approval and hiding these on expenses as “travel”, is that these vehicle add-ons technically violate the company’s vehicle lease agreement.

Each of these occurrences was handled differently by HR & GC. While we were not asked to delve beyond interviewing the manager who thought it an acceptable practice, the Mexico affair resulted in his termination. The VP was required to reimburse the company. The sales team vehicle infractions resulted in re-education.

We also uncovered a plant level employee structuring travel to extend company travel and placing him at a casino for evenings of gambling with the company picking up the tab for the extended stay. This employee lost his job. Contrast this with a senior leader identified as falsifying airline flight options to obtain approval for upgrades which would not otherwise be approved resulting in thousands of dollars in upgrades. The employee was “counseled”. Or perhaps the entrepreneurial approach at one subsidiary of registering their admin as a “travel agent” and booking their own flights through this “agency” (in violation of our travel policy) to obtain discount rates, but keeping the sales incentives for their personal benefit. That one had us really shaking our heads for their “creative” approach to securing discount travel, and while we admired their intent and ingenious approach to thriftiness, we really couldn’t permit the fraud to continue. C-Suite members’ personal expenses continue to be periodically identified as company expenses and remedied by recording them as compensation. Can you say “catch me if you can”?

While the actions of the GC and HR in each of these situations may have been appropriate for the given facts and circumstances, the perception is one of inconsistency and tolerance which encourages continued abuse and opens the door to challenges to disciplinary actions as unfair or even discriminatory. Deception and entitlement can become pervasive, particularly if the company has a policy of not publishing, even in general terms, internal “sentencing guidelines” for workplace misconduct. Our job is hard enough as it is, constantly working against the tide of perceived bias and favoritism. Whether the C-Suite participates or not, perceived inconsistencies establish a “tone at the top,” setting precedents that challenge the legitimacy of the Integrity & Compliance function. All it takes is a firm commitment to Integrity by consistently demonstrating intolerance for actions that do not support company values to turn the tide in our favor. But then, we might be out of a job… hmm. Let us think about that a bit more…

Who are the Two Tough Cookies?

Tough Cookie 1 has spent the more than half of her 20+ legal career working in the Integrity and Compliance field, and has been the architect of award-winning and effective ethics and compliance programs at both publicly traded and privately held companies. Tough Cookie 2 is a Certified Internal Auditor and CPA who has faced ethical and compliance challenges in a variety of industries and geographies and recently led a global internal audit team. Their series “Tales from the Crypt: Tough Choices for Tough Cookies” are drawn largely from real life experiences on the front line of working in Integrity & Compliance, and personal details have been scrubbed to protect, well, you know, just about everyone…

April 15, 2014

The Louisiana Purchase and Compliance Focus Group – Changing the Game

Focus GroupIn 1803, the fate of the United States changed in ways that could have never been contemplated, when the French Minister Talleyrand offered to sell France’s entire Louisiana Territory in North America to stunned American negotiators, Robert Livingston and James Monroe, who were simply trying to purchase the city of New Orleans from the French Emperor Napoleon. Quickly recognizing that this was an offer of potentially immense significance for the US, Livingston and Monroe began to negotiate on France’s proposed cost for the entire territory. Several weeks later, on April 30, 1803, the American emissaries signed a treaty with France for a purchase of the vast territory for $11,250,000. With the sale of the Louisiana Territory, Napoleon abandoned his dreams of a North American empire, but he also achieved a goal that he thought more important. “The sale [of Louisiana] assures forever the power of the United States,” Napoleon later wrote, “and I have given England a rival who, sooner or later, will humble her pride.”

There are many great resources out there for the compliance practitioner. One of them I have really come to appreciate and look forward to receiving is the Red Flag Group’s bi-monthly Compliance Insider magazine, available both in print and online versions. In the most recent version there were several articles that I found very useful for the compliance practitioner but the one I want to focus on today is the compliance focus group. This provides a forum, which allows employees to raise compliance issues and concerns in “an informal environment, in small groups or in one-on-one sessions. They can be done as stand alone or as break-out sessions from larger meetings, conferences or similar events where multiple parties get together.” The article provided 10 things which you should consider before you hold your compliance focus groups.

  1. Select Your Countries and Regions Carefully. You need to reflect on selecting those areas, which have “compliance issues, have been the subject of investigations or are higher risk.” Contrast that selection with one or more regions that have achieved compliance performance so that you can clearly articulate the difference. Most importantly, pick the regions that need the most support and “have the most business at risk if there is a compliance issue. You will also know from your own business those areas, business units or regions where there is more “noise” around compliance.”
  1. Plan Your Locations, Times and Attendees. Think about your logistics, both higher level such as travel times and lower details such as seating. As you will usually desire to have three to four sessions per day, up to 90 minutes, you will need to make sure people have enough time to get there and register. But also think about seating, as you want to make things as informal as possible. This means a conference table or a large U shape arrangement and not classroom or lecture room seating.
  1. Have Separate Management Sessions. It is important that you make attendees feel that they can give open and honest thoughts about the company and its compliance regime. This means you cannot have senior management in sessions for middle management and lower management and employees.
  1. Draft an Agenda and a Short Presentation. The author believes that many times participants will need a stimulus of some sort to get things going. He advises “A good idea is to build a brief agenda before the meeting, even if it is fairly flexible – many senior employees will demand an agenda before accepting a meeting.” Also prepare a brief PowerPoint presentation for the session designed to explain the purpose and outcomes of the session, keep it to five or six slides which will act as placeholders for discussion topics.
  1. Think About Some Probing Questions In Advance. Here are some of the suggested questions that you should consider asking to the group:
  • Do people understand what compliance is? What does it mean to you in your daily business dealings?
  • What do people think of the policies and procedures across the company?
  • Is the training simple and easy to understand?
  • What is the company culture around compliance? Do people really take it seriously or is there a “tick-the-box” mentality?
  • Are there issues with reporting? How do people report? What is the culture regarding reporting issues?
  • Does management “walk the walk” with compliance or just “talk the talk”?
  • How does your company compare to its peers in the area of compliance?
  • What is the competitive environment like, both externally and internally?
  • Where are the areas that compliance could improve?
  1. Select a Facilitator. Compliance issues can be sensitive and people can be uncomfortable talking about them. For the focus group to succeed and be of value, everyone should be made to feel comfortable; and feel that they are not being audited or reviewed or they will not be confident to speak up. The author believes that here a good facilitator can be assist in keeping “the discussion going, ensure that everyone participates, make people feel at ease and, most importantly, ensure that the discussion is lively. The facilitator might also need to be trained on some of the risk areas of the business and have a solid understanding of the business and the existing compliance program.”
  1. Prepare Your Opening Disclaimer. Some participants may want to know how their comments will be used, quoted directly or generalized. This would be the time to address such concerns and invoke confidentiality of names and other identifiers.
  1. Prepare Some Takeaways. The leader should be prepared to summarize what the next steps will be going forward, including when a report might be issued to management and what might included in the report.
  1. Prepare a Report For All Participants. A key component of any compliance focus group is a post event report, which consolidates all sessions. This should be generated as soon as possible after the end of the last session. The report should include specific actions that will be taken based upon the input received from the focus groups. There will certainly be expectations from participants that if they have reported any circumstances which warranted responses they will want to know what the compliance team is doing about a response. Participants will also want to see whether the feedback they gave is consistent with that given in the other sessions.

10.Write a Report for Management. This report should focus on the larger issues raised in the compliance focus groups and, as the author notes, “looking at the trends, steps forward and lessons learned.”

While your compliance focus group may not be quite the game changer that the Louisiana purchase was for the US, it will certainly provide you solid information on your compliance program that you can use to move it forward; as the article notes, “From the people who use the programme everyday—your employees and partners—you can find out what the programme means, how it adds value (or doesn’t add value) and how it is seen by the management team around the world. And while you are at it, you may want to check out the Red Flag Group’s Compliance Insider magazine, it is a great resource.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

Implementing Compliance Incentives In Your Company

IncentiveSeveral readers have asked why I have not written anything about the Houston Astros this year. The answer is two-fold. The first is that I really do not care. However, the more I thought about it, the real reason is that they are not relevant. Just how not relevant are the bumbling hometown (former) loveables? Last week they achieved the noteworthy accomplishment of obtaining a Nielson rating of 0.00 for a second consecutive season. I am not aware of any other major league team, which has been on television for a game where no one was recorded as watching for the entire game, for two straight seasons. Pretty amazing when you think about it.

However, one thing that is relevant in the context of any best practices anti-bribery compliance program is incentives. The Department Of Justice (DOJ) and Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) could not have been clearer in the FCPA Guidance about their views on the need for incentives to help drive behavior that is ethical and in compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) when they stated “DOJ and SEC recognize that positive incentives can also drive compliant behavior.” In the Guidance, the SEC cited to the following:

[M]ake integrity, ethics and compliance part of the promotion, compensation and evaluation processes as well. For at the end of the day, the most effective way to communicate that “doing the right thing” is a priority, is to reward it. Conversely, if employees are led to believe that, when it comes to compensation and career advancement, all that counts is short-term profitability, and that cutting ethical corners is an acceptable way of getting there, they’ll perform to that measure. To cite an example from a different walk of life: a college football coach can be told that the graduation rates of his players are what matters, but he’ll know differently if the sole focus of his contract extension talks or the decision to fire him is his winloss record.

A recent article in the Spring 2014 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, entitled “Combing Purpose with Profits”, by authors Julian Birkinshaw, Nicolai J. Foss and Siegwart Lindenberg, presents some interesting steps on how a company might work towards achieving the goals articulated by the DOJ and SEC. The key thesis of the authors is if you want to motivate employees you have to have purpose. In their article they presented case studies from three entities: the Tata Group, Handelsbanken and HCL Technologies. From these three cases studies they came up with six core principles, which I will adapt for the compliance function in an anti-corruption compliance program.

  1. Compliance incentives don’t have to be elaborate or novel. The first point is that there are only a limited number of compliance incentives that a company can meaningfully target. Evidence suggests the successful companies are the ones that were able to translate pedestrian-sounding compliance incentive goals into consistent and committed action.
  2. Compliance incentives need supporting systems if they are to stick. People take cues from those around them, but people are fickle and easily confused, and gain and hedonic goals can quickly drive out compliance incentives. This means that you will need to construct a compliance function that provides a support system to help them operationalize their pro-incentives at different levels, and thereby make them stick. The specific systems which support incentives can be created specifically to your company but the key point is that they are delivered consistently because it signals that management is sincere.
  3. Support systems are needed to reinforce compliance incentives. One important form of a supporting system for compliance incentives “Is to incorporate tangible manifestations of the company’s pro-social goals into the day-to-day work of employees.” Make the rewards visible. As stated in the FCPA Guidance, “Beyond financial incentives, some companies have highlighted compliance within their organizations by recognizing compliance professionals and internal audit staff. Others have made working in the company’s compliance organization a way to advance an employee’s career.”
  4. Compliance incentives need a “counterweight” to endure. Goal-framing theory shows how easy it is for compliance incentives to be driven out by gain or hedonic goals, so even with the types of supporting systems it is quite common to see executives bowing to short-term financial pressures. Thus, a key factor in creating enduring compliance incentives is a “counterweight,” by which we mean any institutional mechanism that exists to enforce a continued focus on a nonfinancial goal. This means that in any financial downturn compliance incentives are not the first thing that gets thrown out the window and if my oft-cited hypothetical foreign Regional Manager misses his number for two quarters, he does not get fired. So the key is that the counterweight has real influence; it must hold the leader to account.
  5. Compliance incentive alignment works in an oblique, not linear, way. The authors believe that “In most companies, there is an implicit belief that all activities should be aligned in a linear and logical way, from a clear end point back to the starting point. The language used — from cascading goals to key performance indicators — is designed to reinforce this notion of alignment. But goal-framing theory suggests that the most successful companies are balancing multiple objectives (pro-social goals, gain goals, hedonic goals) that are not entirely compatible with one another, which makes a simple linear approach very hard to sustain.” What does this mean in practical terms for your compliance program? If you want your employees to align around compliance incentives, your company will have to “eschew narrow, linear thinking, and instead provide more scope for them to choose their own oblique pathway.” This means emphasizing compliance as part of your company’s DNA on a consistent basis — “the intention being that by encouraging individuals to do “good,” their collective effort leads, seemingly as a side-effect, to better financial results. The logic of “[compliance first], profitability second” needs to find its way deeply into the collective psyche of the company.”
  1. Compliance incentive initiatives can be implemented at all levels. Who at your company is responsible for pursuing compliance incentives? If you head up a division or business unit, it is clearly your job to define what your pro-social goals are and to put in place the supporting structures and systems described here. But what if you are lower in the corporate hierarchy? It is tempting to think this is “someone else’s problem,” but actually there is no reason why you cannot follow your own version of the same process. We have seen quite a few mid-level managers make a real difference, and often quite quickly, using the principles outlined here.

The author’s have set out several steps that you can implement into your compliance program to enhance incentives to facilitate anti-corruption. There have been many who have criticized the FCPA Guidance. While I am certainly not one of them, I do not think there can be any argument that it does not present the DOJ and SEC views on a minimum best practices compliance program. So if the DOJ and SEC think incentives in your compliance program are important, I suggest to you, they are important. The article, which is the basis of this blog post, provides an excellent start for the exploration of some ways to inculcate anti-bribery and anti-corruption incentives into not only your compliance regime but also, more importantly, the DNA of your company.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

April 14, 2014

The HP FCPA Settlement

FCPA SettlementLast week the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) jointly announced the conclusion of a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action against Hewlett-Packard Company (HP). In the settlement, HP agreed to pay $108MM in fines, penalties and disgorgements for criminal and civil acts. To say that it was one of the more perplexing FCPA settlements would seem to be an understatement. While some will read the settlement documents and see conduct which did not merit such a high total amount of fines and penalties, I am not from that camp.

The tale of this sordid affair of bribery and corruption occurred over 3 continents with multiple countries involved, evidencing an entire breakdown in company internal controls and a complete lack of a culture of compliance. Yet the settlement documents make great pains to emphasize that few employees were actually involved in the nefarious conduct. How bad was the conduct? Think right up there with BizJet because we had bags of cash delivered to a Polish government official. (But unlike BizJet, the Board of Directors did not approve the bribery scheme and it was not taken across the border.) For the Russian deal, it was shopped through several countries with multiple levels of company review, which did not seem to work or care much about anything except getting the deal done. For Mexico, they just seemed to get a free pass where the contract description for the agent who paid the bribe was “influencer fee”.

Finally, as most readers might remember, HP did not self-report this misconduct to the DOJ or SEC. Apparently, the story of HP’s bribery by its German subsidiary to gain a contract in Russia was broken by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article in April 15, 2010. The next day, the DOJ and SEC announced they were investigating the allegations of bribery. However, HP was made aware of the allegations by its German subsidiary in December 2009, when German authorities raided HP’s offices in Munich and arrested one HP Germany executive and two former employees. Yet HP never self-reported. Not exactly the poster child for self-disclosure for any company going forward.

Of course HP’s public response at the time indicated its attitude, when a HP spokesperson was quoted in the WSJ article as saying “This is an investigation of alleged conduct that occurred almost seven years ago, largely by employees no longer with HP. We are cooperating fully with the German and Russian authorities and will continue to conduct our own internal investigation.”

More befuddlement comes from the reported facts around HP Germany. As noted by the WSJ report, one, then current, HP executive was arrested and two former employees were arrested in connection with the investigation by German authorities. There is no mention of them in any of the settlement documents. The WSJ article also reported that investigation-related documents submitted to a German court showed that German prosecutors were “looking into whether H-P executives funneled the suspected bribes through a network of shell companies and accounts in places including Britain, Austria, Switzerland, the British Virgin Islands, Belize, New Zealand, the Baltic nations of Latvia and Lithuania, and the states of Delaware and Wyoming”. While some of these countries were mentioned in the settlement documents there was no mentions of DOJ or SEC investigations into Wyoming, Belize, the British Virgin Islands or New Zealand.

What are we to make of the criminal fines levied against the Russian and Polish subsidiaries of HP? The Polish subsidiary pled guilty to a two count Criminal Information consisting of (1) violating the FCPA’s internal control provisions; (2) violating the FCPA’s books and records provisions. The US Sentencing Guidelines suggested a fine range of $19MM to $38MM, the final fine was $15,450,244.

For the Russia deal, the Russian subsidiary pled guilty to a four count Criminal Information consisting of (1) conspiracy to violate the books and records provisions of the FCPA; (2) violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions; (3) violating the FCPA’s internal control provisions; (4) violating the FCPA’s books and records provisions. The US Sentencing Guidelines suggested a fine range of $87MM to $174MM, yet the final fine was $58,772,250.

Finally, in Mexico HP’s subsidiary, according the to the SEC Press Release, “paid a consultant to help the company win a public IT contract worth approximately $6 million. At least $125,000 was funneled to a government official at the state-owned petroleum company with whom the consultant had connections. Although the consultant was not an approved deal partner and had not been subjected to the due diligence required under company policy, HP Mexico sales managers used a pass-through entity to pay inflated commissions to the consultant.” This was internally referred to by HP as an “influencer fee.” Pretty clear evidence of what it was to be used for, wouldn’t you say? Yet the DOJ did not to criminally prosecute the company’s Mexican subsidiary and entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA), HP agreed to pay forfeiture in the amount of $2,527,750.

How did HP accomplish all of this? In a Press Release HP Executive Vice President and General Counsel John Schultz said, “The misconduct described in the settlement was limited to a small number of people who are no longer employed by the company. HP fully cooperated with both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission in the investigation of these matters and will continue to provide customers around the world with top quality products and services without interruption.”

As reported by the FCPA Professor, in his blog post entitled “HP And Related Entities Resolve $108 Million FCPA Enforcement Action”, the HP Russian subsidiary Plea Agreement gave the following factors for the reduction in the fine from the Sentencing Guideline range:

“(a) monetary assessments that HP has agreed to pay to the SEC and is expected to pay to law enforcement authorities in Germany relating to the same conduct at issue …; (b) HP Russia’s and HP’s cooperation has been, on the whole, extraordinary, including conducting an extensive internal investigation, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, and collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the Department; (c) HP Russia and HP have engaged in extensive remediation, including by taking appropriate disciplinary action against culpable employees of HP and enhancing their internal accounting, reporting, and compliance functions; (d) HP has committed to continue enhancing its compliance program and internal accounting controls … (e) the misconduct identified … was largely undertaken by employees associated with HP Russia, which employed a small fraction of HP global workforce during the relevant period; (f) neither HP nor HP Russia has previously been subject of any criminal enforcement action by the Department or law enforcement authority in Russia or elsewhere; (g) HP Russia and HP have agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department and other U.S. and foreign law enforcement authorities, if requested by the Department …”

In the same blog post, the Professor reported the following reasons were stated for reduction in the final fine by HP’s Polish subsidiary’s:

“(a) HP Poland’s cooperation with the Department’s investigation; (b) HP Poland’s ultimate parent corporation, HP, has committed to maintain and continue enhancing its compliance program and internal accounting controls …; and (c) HP Poland and HP have agreed to continue with the Department and other U.S. and foreign law enforcement authorities in any ongoing investigation …”

We have witnessed companies, which have engaged in ‘extraordinary cooperation’ with the DOJ during the pendency of their FCPA investigations. BizJet is certainly one that comes to mind. Further, there are clear examples of companies, which extensively remediated during the pendancies of their FCPA investigations, from which they clearly benefited. Two prime examples are Parker Drilling, which not only received a financial penalty below the suggested range but also was not required to have a corporate monitor, while they had C-Suite involvement in its bribery scheme. Weatherford seeming came back from the brink during mid-investigation when they hired Billy Jacobson and turned around not only their attitude towards cooperation with the DOJ but also their efforts toward remediation.

Both of these companies are headquartered in Houston and both have been quite active on the conference circuit talking about their compliance programs so most compliance practitioners are aware that these companies are on the forefront of best practices. Perhaps HP is on some circuit doing that, somewhere. If so, kudos to them. If their remediation work led to a best practices compliance program for the company and their extraordinary cooperation led to the astonishing reduction in penalties to their entities, I certainly tip my cap to them. If their lawyers were great negotiators and made great presentations to the DOJ and SEC, all of which led to or contributed to the final results, a tip of the cap to them as well.

So what is the lesson to be learned for the compliance practitioner? Other than befuddlement, I am not sure. Congratulating HP and its counsel is not a lesson it is an action. If HP now has a best practices compliance program, I hope they will provide the compliance community with the lessons that they learned and incorporated into their compliance program, which allowed them to obtain the fines below the minimum suggested range. If they have incorporated some enhanced compliance components into their program I hope they will share those enhancements too.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

April 11, 2014

Joint Venture Partners and the Company You Keep Under the FCPA

Lie Down Wtih DogsAs the father of a teenage daughter I am sometimes, reluctantly, forced to admit that upon rare occasions my parents were right about a few things. One was asking for permission first rather than asking for forgiveness after the fact, or in my case as a teenager the untoward event. Another was my mother’s admonition that you are judged by the company you keep. I thought about that truism when I read an article in the Financial Times (FT) yesterday, entitled “Steinmetz unit won Guinea mining riches corruptly, inquiry says”, by reporter Tom Burgis.

The article relates the long running story of the BSG Resources’ (BSGR) winning of the multi-billion mining concession for the Simandou iron-ore mine in the country of Guinea, which was awarded to the company at the end of the reign of the country’s former dictator Lansana Conté, before he died in 2008. According to a report prepared by the current government of Guinea, BSGR won the contract by paying bribes to his fourth wife Mamadie Touré in the form of cash and shares “to help ensure those rights were stripped from Anglo-Australian miner Rio-Tinto and granted to BSGR.”

Of course there is also the tale of BSGR employee/agent/representative/other Frederic Cilins who contacted Ms. Touré in the US and offered to pay her some $5MM to retrieve the contracts which detailed the payments she was to receive from BSGR. It turned out that there was a Grand Jury investigation going on over BSGR at the time and by now Ms. Touré was a cooperating witness with the Department of Justice (DOJ). Cilins was arrested, charged with and pled guilty to obstruction of justice.

BSGR has denied all of these allegations and says that it received the rights to the mining concession fair and square. Further, it has questioned not only the legitimacy of the report issued by the Guinea government but of the government itself, saying “[current] President Conté has manipulated the process through unconditional technical and financial support from activists line [billionaire transparency advocate] George Soros and NGOs that function as his personal advocacy groups.” The Guinea government report notes recommends that BSGR’s mining concession be cancelled.

So how does all this imbroglio relate to my mother’s admonition? It is because BSGR was in a joint venture (JV) with the Brazilian company Vale for this concession. The FT article reports “After spending $160m on preliminary development of its Guinea assets, BSGR in April 2010 struck its $2.5bn deal with Vale, of which $500m was payable immediately. The balance was to be paid if targets were met but Vale halted payments last year, after the corruption allegations surfaced. The inquiry concluded that, although payments to Ms Touré allegedly continued following the Vale transaction, it was “likely” that the Brazilian group “has not participated in corrupt practices”. Nonetheless, it said the Vale-BSGR joint venture – which BSGR says has spent $1bn at Simandou – should be stripped of its rights to that and other prospects.”

Vale’s response to all of this has been – wait for it – “conducts appropriate due diligence prior to its investments.” Vale had no comment on the Guinea government report released yesterday. I wonder what its due diligence on BSGR turned up?

I wrote last week about the life cycle management of the third party relationship. Those series of articles was primarily aimed at agents and other representatives in the sales channel and vendors in the supply chain. While those same concepts apply to JV’s, there is another level of management when there is a relationship such as a JV. One JV partner must have transparency into the actions of its partner and there must be as much assurance as can be possible that there is no corruption going on. From the time line presented in the FT article it appears that the JV between BSGR and Vale was created (2010) after the payments were contracted to Ms. Touré and the concession granted to BSGR (2008).

However I am sure that is of little comfort to Vale who is now down its $500MM that it paid to BSGR to enter into the JV relationship. How much has it had to spend to circle the wagons to defend itself? And do you think the DOJ has come knocking on their door during its investigation? (The smart money says yes). To top it all off, last week the company announced it might have to write-off its entire investment in Guinea. While Guinea indicated that Vale would not be banned from rebidding if rights for the mining concessions were reopened, what do you thing Vale’s chances would be? (Here the smart money says no).

Did Vale subject itself to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) liability by joining into a JV with BSGR? At this point I have no idea. But you know my Mom was right, in the FCPA world, when it comes to JV’s, you are known by the company you keep.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

April 10, 2014

Asking Questions To Build Your Compliance Program

IMG_3289On this day in 1932 President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) enacted the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) declaring a “government worthy of its name must make a fitting response” to the suffering of the unemployed. He waxed poetic when lobbying for its passage, declaring “the forests are the lungs of our land [which] purify our air and give fresh strength to our people.” Of FDR’s many New Deal policies, the CCC is considered by many to be one of the most enduring and successful. It provided the model for future state and federal conservation programs. From 1933 to 1942, the CCC employed over 3 million men.

The CCC, also known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” was open to unemployed, unmarried US male citizens between the ages of 18 and 25. All recruits had to be healthy and were expected to perform hard physical labor. Enlistment in the program was for a minimum of 6 months; many re-enlisted after their first term. Participants were paid $30 a month and often given supplemental basic and vocational education while they served. Under the guidance of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, CCC employees fought forest fires, planted trees, cleared and maintained access roads, re-seeded grazing lands and implemented soil-erosion controls. The CCC was a solution that was right for the place and time but its effects have lasted up through this day. There are still CCC built national parks and other facilities in use. We still drive over bridges built by the CCC.

I thought about the CCC, how it was such an effective organization for its time and how the results of its efforts have lasted over 80 years, in some cases, when I read an article in the April issue of Inc. magazine, entitled “35 Great Questions”, where Paul Graham, Jim Collins and other business leaders looked at some of questions that thought business leaders should be asking of themselves and of their teams. While the focus was not on compliance and ethics, many of the questions clearly could be viewed through such a prism. The key is that by asking good questions, as listed below, it “opens people to new ideas and possibilities.”

  1. How can we become the company that would put us out of business?
  2. Are we relevant? Will we be relevant five years from now? Ten?
  3. If energy were free, what would we do differently?
  4. What is it like to work for me?
  5. If we weren’t already in this business, would we enter it today? And if not, what are we going to do about it?
  6. What trophy do we want on our mantle?
  7. Do we have bad profits?
  8. What counts that we are not counting?
  9. In the past few months, what is the smallest change we have made that has had the biggest positive result? What was it about that small change that produced the large return?
  10. Are we paying enough attention to the partners our company depends on to succeed?
  11. What prevents me from making the changes I know will make me a more effective leader?
  12. What are the implications of this decision 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years from now?
  13. Do I make eye contact 100 percent of the time?
  14. What is the smallest subset of the problem we can usefully solve?
  15. Are we changing as fast as the world around us?
  16. If no one would ever find out about my accomplishments, how would I lead differently?
  17. Which customers can’t participate in our market because they lack the skills, wealth, or convenient access to existing solutions?
  18. Who uses our products in ways we never expected?
  19. How likely is it that a customer would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?
  20. Is this an issue for analysis or intuition?
  21. Who, on the executive team or the board, has spoken to a customer recently?
  22. Did my employees make progress today?
  23. What one word do we want to own in the minds of our customers, employees and partners?
  24. What should we stop doing?
  25. What are the gaps in my knowledge and experience?
  26. What am I trying to prove to myself, and how might it be hijacking my life and business success?
  27. If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?
  28. If I had to leave my organization for a year and the only communication I could have with employees was a single paragraph, what would I write?
  29. What have we, as a company, historically been when we’ve been at our best?
  30. What do we stand for – and what are we against?
  31. Is there any reason to believe the opposite of my current belief?
  32. Do we underestimate the customer’s journey?
  33. Among our stronger employees, how many see themselves at the company in three years? How many would leave for a 10 percent raise from another company?
  34. What did we miss in the interview for the worst hire we ever made?
  35. Do we have the right people on the bus?

As a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) many of these questions could be adapted to the compliance function or directly asked of you, your leadership and your team. One of the thing that bedevils many CCOs is time to think, plan and consider what Warren Berger, the author of “A More Beautiful Question”, says is the “inquiry’s ability to trigger divergent thinking, in which the mind seeks multiple, sometimes non-obvious paths to a solution.”

I often say that a key role for a CCO is listening but equally important is asking questions. Inc.’s list of thought-provoking questions can give you some excellent ideas about areas to explore with your compliance team, your senior management and the employees in your company. So start asking questions and start listening.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

 

 

 

April 9, 2014

Tales From the Crypt: Rule No. 8 – Even Sailors Behaving Badly can get Promoted

Tales from the CryptEd. Note-the Two Tough Cookies are back with today’s guest post on the toleration of bad behavior…

It is no secret that “sailor’s mouth” is an acronym for someone who liberally uses foul language in even the most formal situations. There was a time in my life when I was known for dropping the “f-bomb” a bit too frequently, but age, experience and just plain civility has given me the presence of mind to be sensitive to others in a way I was not early in my career. I don’t even use that particular term in casual conversation with friends any longer without feeling a tinge of regret as soon as the word crosses my lips, acutely aware that it’s a bit “unseemly” of me, and doesn’t reflect the person I’ve grown into. I am less “familiar” with people, as I have come to realize that familiarity does indeed breed contempt, particularly in the workplace. I don’t even relax in casual get-togethers with friends, as many of my friendships are the direct result of my work relationships and, as we know from prior posts, appearances matter. When you are an Integrity and Compliance professional, people look at the whole person, not just the person who shows up to work, and personal conduct outside the workplace can result in just as damning a judgment from peers as conduct within workplace walls.

I was less than a month on the job when I was handed the work files pertaining to the hotline calls that had come into the organization before I was appointed to the compliance function. I had met with the HR professional who handled the lion’s share of the investigations, but one stood out – instead of the file name being labelled by the implicated party accused of wrong doing (as most were), this file was labelled under the name of the accuser. What I found within was nothing short of extraordinary, and, in hindsight, gave me crystal clarity to what lay ahead. What puzzles me (and many of my colleagues) to this day is how individuals such as those we describe in our Tales seem to consistently percolate to the top of their organizations, landing one plumb assignment after another, and those of us who keep our heads down, demonstrate respect and do our jobs with professionalism and dedication seem to get shunted off to the side again and again. We’re missing something important and this Tale from our Crypt spotlights one of the worst of the worst…

The time of my appointment was one of change. The CEO, unbeknownst to me, was preparing for retirement, planning on “ruling” his roost for only a few short months before turning his mantle over to one of the senior level executives who had steadily risen through the ranks and was now in charge of the largest revenue segment of the company. The Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) had “resigned” only a few months prior to my arrival, and I could not get a straight answer as to why. The interim executive in charge of the human resource function had only been at the organization a short time, overlapping the prior CHRO’s tenure by only a month.   He already had business cards printed with the title CHRO under his name, even though the board had not officially sanctioned his candidacy for the role and there was still an active executive search underway. By all rights, I should have been clued in then and there, but I was happy to have a job, having just left a rather unsavory position at a privately held company that made “hostile work environment” sound like a Hawaiian vacation in comparison to the draconian employment tactics they routinely used that forced me to stop and meditate every morning prior to crossing the threshold into the office.

The file that I had open before me told a story of foul language, abusive behavior, threatening gestures, lack of sensitivity for “personal” needs (such as terminal illness resulting in a death in the family), disrespect towards subordinates, and falsified work history. Was this guy for real? And to have him as “Charles in charge” of the HR function for a large, global company? I was shaking my head in disbelief. To further compound matters, the company had already hired a “coach” to work with him on his foul language…. and still, there was no apparent change of behavior.

The person who filed a complaint against this individual was so intimidated by his language, threatening gestures, and workplace violence (he once threw a pencil at her from across the room, saying people’s actions weren’t going to stick, just like the pen didn’t stick to the wall) that she asked to be demoted and lose pay in order to not work for him any longer.

Shortly after our new fearless CHRO took the reins, I caught wind that not only was the CHRO being snickered at behind his back for his outrageous behavior, word had it that he had actually falsified his work history, claiming a higher level HR executive position on his resume than was true. I had it on “good authority” from another HR professional that when both the CHRO and my “source” were colleagues at this same company, our new CHRO had established himself firmly as a “buffoon” and had risen no higher than a manager at his prior organization. Yet he managed to convince our hiring folks that he was “leadership” material…. and it was no wonder when we looked at the new hire due diligence process (coming up later)…

A really quick way to percolate talk around the coffee pot (and erode the respect your employees have for the organization) is when a company bends over backwards to accommodate an executive’s special needs, especially setting up offices and whole operations in places where the company never had a business presence, for the convenience of the executive (or one of his top subordinates). Not long after his self-appointment, our new CHRO became so enamored with a candidate of his choosing that he pushed to move an entire HR function to this candidate’s home state, disrupting the lives of several dozen individuals who were forced to either move to the new location (a full day’s drive and 5 states south of headquarters), find a new position at HQ, or be laid off.  In this instance, the CHRO’s “pet” was ensconced to oversee several HR support functions out of this new location. Given that the “pet” was new and unproven as an employee, the talk speculated whether or not there was something going on between the CHRO and this new hire. Then this new manager pushed through the hiring process a candidate she had chosen in spite of the interview panel commenting that the candidate’s “demeanor was deceptive.”

When it came to the background check on new hires, “asleep at the wheel” comes to mind. The only reason this candidate came up on my radar was when another HR colleague suspected something was amiss when the company was pursuing some government contracts, and a request for documentation was issued from a state agency that wasn’t part of the bidding process. This Mata Hari’s mistake? When we opened the file (which was sent via email, from a fabricated email address, from a web site she created and launched only a month earlier, which very much had the look and feel of an “official” state agency, and even had a live phone number answered by her “significant other” – you get my drift…), the metatags on the document indicated she was the author, and not the state agency.   When we reviewed her application, and did a root cause analysis of what went wrong, it became clear that expediency won over reason, and red flags which surfaced in the original background check were overlooked, even though several points indicated her candidacy as “unverifiable.” False names were given for references, and burn phones given for contact info. Job positions were fabricated for companies which did not exist, and couldn’t be found on either the internet, or by the PI’s we hired to actually visit the sites identified. We weren’t even really certain if the candidate’s social security number was really hers … but I digress.

We have seen it again and again – people behaving badly, getting away with it, and in some instances, being “rewarded” for their behavior by being promoted soon after a workplace incident was brought to my attention. We have yet to break the “code” of when arrogance crosses the line from being “coachable” behavior, to being “assertive” and a “closer,” thus worthy of promotion. We cannot figure out, for the life of us, why allowing fundamental compliance lapses such as due diligence in hiring can be overlooked, shrugged off as if inconsequential. We have come to the conclusion it all has to do with whether or not you’ve finally been accepted into the “inner circle” and/or whether or not the company feels too “invested” in the person to simply punt them out of the arena for being abrasive, and in some instances, downright hostile. What amazes us even further is when it is the Human Resource Function that is behaving badly….

Who are the Two Tough Cookies?

Tough Cookie 1 has spent the more than half of her 20+ legal career working in the Integrity and Compliance field, and has been the architect of award-winning and effective ethics and compliance programs at both publicly traded and privately held companies.  Tough Cookie 2 is a Certified Internal Auditor and CPA who has faced ethical and compliance challenges in a variety of industries and geographies and recently led a global internal audit team. Their series “Tales from the Crypt: Tough Choices for Tough Cookies” are drawn largely from real life experiences on the front line of working in Integrity & Compliance, and personal details have been scrubbed to protect, well, you know, just about everyone…

April 8, 2014

Mickey Rooney and The 90 Cent Solution

Mickey Rooney as PuckWe begin today with a word on the death of Mickey Rooney. Rooney’s career, spanning nearly 90 years was certainly was from a different era. He was short of stature and long in his number of marriages but as Bob Lefsetz noted in his blog post tribute to Rooney, “But they stood in front of us twenty feet tall. At the drive-in. Even when the pictures truly got small on the tiny old screens of yore they emerged triumphant, because they were so good-looking, so charismatic. And if you were big enough, a bright enough star, your legacy lived on, even if your present day circumstances bore no resemblance to fame.” But here’s why there is always a place in my heart for Mickey Rooney. When I was very young I lived with my grandparents and one night I watched the 1935 movie version of Shakespeare’s A Mid Summer Night’s Dream on television with my grandmother. Rooney’s so over the top performance of Puck began for me a life long love affair with the Bard. So here’s to the grandmother that started me off on a lifelong love affair of Shakespeare’s works and here’s to the Mickster—you did it your way.

I have often considered the role of senior management is to set a proper ‘Tone-At-The-Top” to do business ethically and in compliance with anti-corruption laws like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or the UK Bribery Act. Incentives to do business ethically and in compliance are also recognized as an important part of any best practices compliance program. The flip side of incentives is disincentives, such as discipline or financial penalties for affirmatively engaging in misconduct. But how far should such disincentives go and how strong should they be? Should there be penalties for not only affirmatively engaging in misconduct but also failing to monitor risk-taking that allows misconduct to occur? If the latter becomes prevalent, how close do we come to criminalizing conduct, which is arguably negligent and not simply intentional?

I have thought about several of these questions and many others over the past few days when reading about the ongoing struggles of General Motors (GM) over its Cobalt recall issues and Citigroup in regards to its Mexican banking operations. In an article by Gretchen Morgenson in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “The Wallet as Ethics Enforcer”, where she asked “Who decided—and who agreed—that 90 cents was too much to pay for each switch that would have fixed the problem that apparently led to 13 deaths? How much did that decision add to the bottom line and add to executives’ compensation over the years? What will the company have to pay in possible regulatory penalties and legal settlements?” One of her own answers to these questions reads, “While the shareholders of G.M. will shoulder the cost of the fines, the settlements and loss of trust arising from the mess, the executives responsible for monitoring internal risks like these are unlikely to be held accountable by returning past pay.”

Citigroup, which had previously indicated that it had been the victim of a huge fraud perpetrated by one of its customers in Mexico, Oceanografía. However, now Citigroup now faces both federal criminal and civil investigations over the affair. As reported in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, entitled “Crime Inquiry Said to Open On Citigroup”, Ben Protess and Michael Corkery reported that both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have opened investigations “focusing in part on whether holes in the bank’s internal controls contributed to the fraud in Mexico. The question for the investigators is whether Citigroup—as other banks have been accused of doing in the context of money laundering—ignored warning signs.” For a bank to be criminally liable, “prosecutors would typically need to show that the bank willfully ignored warning signs of the fraud.” However, to show a civil violation, the threshold is lower and there may only need to be a showing that the bank lacked the proper internal controls or internal oversight.

In her article, Morgenson spoke with Scott M. Stringer, the New York City Comptroller, who is a strong advocate of corporate requirements which “make sure that insiders who engage in questionable conduct are required to pay the piper” in the form of clawback provisions. Stringer has worked with companies to expand clawback provisions beyond those mandated by Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), which required “boards to recover some incentive pay from a chief executive and chief financial officer if a company did not comply with financial reporting requirements.” Now, clawbacks have expanded to require executives to return compensation “even if they did not commit the misconduct themselves; they run afoul of the rules by failing to monitor conduct or risk-taking by subordinates.” Stringer believes that such clawback provisions not only “speak to the issue of financial accountability but also to setting a tone at the top.”

Morgenson ends her article by noting that unless GM makes public its internal investigation, “we may never know how many G.M. executives knew about the Cobalt problems and looked the other way.” In the meantime though, this debacle shows the importance of policies that hold high-level employees accountable for conduct that, even if not illegal, can do serious damage to their companies. Directors creating such policies would be sending a clear signal that they take their duties to the company’s owners seriously.”

At this point, we do not know high up the decision went in GM not to install the 90 cent solution. But I would argue it really does not matter. Somewhere in the company, some engineer figured out a solution and indeed one was implemented without changing the part number. I am sure the GM Board would have been sufficiently shocked, just shocked, to find out that such decisions as monetary over safety were going on inside the company. What does all of the information released so far tell us about the culture inside GM when these decisions were made? While I am certainly willing to give current GM Chief Mary Barra the benefit of the doubt about her intentions for the company going forward, particularly after a grueling couple of days before Congress, what do you think the financial incentives were in the company when the 90 cent solution was rejected?

It initially appeared that Citigroup was the victim of a massive fraud perpetrated by one of its customers. However, even initially it was reported that Citigroup let its Mexican operation, Banamex run its own show with very little oversight from the corporate office in New York. Now Citigroup is not only under a civil investigation for lack of proper internal controls but also a criminal investigation for willful ignorance of Banamex’s operations. Does any of this sound far-fetched or perhaps familiar? Think about Frederick Bourke and ‘conscious indifference’. Even the judge in Burke’s criminal trial mused that she did not know if he was a perpetrator or a victim. Perhaps Citigroup is both, but if he was both it certainly did not help Bourke. While I am certainly sure that the Citigroup Board of Directors would also say that it would also simply be shocked, just shocked, to find that there were even insufficient internal controls over Banamex, let alone willful ignorance of criminal actions of its Mexico subsidiary, it does pose the question as to what is the culture at the bank?

As important as clawbacks are, until the message of compliance gets down from the top of an organization, into the middle and then to the bottom, a culture of compliance will not exist. I have worked in an industry where safety is goal number one. But in the same industry I have heard the apocryphal tale of the foreign Regional Manager who is alleged to have said, “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 punished. If I miss my numbers for two quarters, I will be fired.” Clawbacks for Board members would not have influenced this apocryphal foreign Regional Manager, any more than they would have worked on the psyche of the GM engineers who proposed and then later dropped the 90 cent solution. It was clear to them what their bosses thought was important for them to keep their jobs. As long as management has that message, doing business ethically and in compliance will always take a second seat.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

 

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