FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

January 23, 2012

General Petraeus and Four Tasks to Inform Your Compliance Program

Most senior corporate officers are firmly behind their company’s compliance programs, whether based upon the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA); the UK Bribery Act or some other anti-corruption or anti-bribery regime. They often ask me what specifically they can do to assist in moving their company’s compliance program forward. I thought about this question while reading a book review by Max Boot, in the January 21-22 edition of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), of “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus” authored by Paula Broadwell, with Vernon Loeb. The book itself is an account of General Petraeus’s life story coupled “with an insider’s look at the general’s year in command in Afghanistan.”

From the perspective of the compliance practitioner, the thing that I found of interest was the discussion of four tasks that General Petraeus believes that leaders must perform. After listing these four tasks out, the authors go on to demonstrate  how General Petraeus applied this approach to such basic tasks as crafting rules on the use of force designed to strike a balance between being aggressive without causing unnecessary civilian casualties. The four tasks are:

  1. A leader must get “the big ideas right”;
  2. A leader must communicate those “big ideas”;
  3. A leader must oversee “the implementation of those big ideas”; and
  4. A leader must capture “best practices and lessons” and cycle them “back through the system to help refine the big ideas.”

So how can your senior management use General Petraeus’ four tasks to move towards a best practices compliance program?

Get the Big Ideas Right

The Big Idea here is compliance is good business. One only needs to look at the current debate to amend the FCPA to understand that it can be simple. At the House Judiciary Committee hearing last June, Department of Justice (DOJ) representative Greg Andres said it is quite easy to avoid FCPA liability; simply do not engage in bribery. That is certainly a big idea and one that senior management can lead the way.

Communicate the Big Ideas

Once senior management is committed to a big idea, such as the company will not engage in bribery or other forms of corruption to do business, senior management must communicate this message. Here a variety of forms of communications can be used; email, video messages, presenting at annual sales and leadership conferences or any other medium. Remember you, as the compliance officer, are only limited by your imagination on how to communicate this idea.

Oversee Implementation of the Big Ideas

Here General Petraeus suggests that senior management must take an active involvement in any program implementation or significant enhancement. This does not mean that senior management could or even should be down into the details of compliance program implementation or enhancement. However, it does mean that senior management needs to stay abreast of progress and assist, if required, to untangle strategic bottlenecks within the company.

Capture Best Practices and Lessons and Cycle Back

This fourth task is one that has clearly been discussed by Lanny Breuer and other DOJ representatives at compliance conferences over the past 2+ years. In any minimum best practices compliance program, there should be an annual assessment. The lessons learned from this annual assessment should be cycled back through your compliance program to allow continual refinement of the big idea that your company will not engage in corruption or bribery to obtain business.

General Petraeus’ four tasks outline an excellent manner for senior management to organize its approach to anti-corruption and anti-bribery compliance programs. As a compliance officer, you can present this mechanism to senior management as an approach to think through and manage its role in your compliance program. It is well worth a look.

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, 2012

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