FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

December 16, 2014

The Eve of Destruction and Tone at the Top – You Are Who Say You Are

Barry McGuireIn 1965 the single Eve of Destruction was released. It was written by an 18 year old named Phil Sloan and was sung by former member of the New Christie Minstrels named Barry McGuire. To top it off, it was produced by Lou Adler. These facts, the story of the song, its recording and release were related in a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article by Steve Dougherty entitled “Still on the ‘Eve of Destruction’. There are some singles that got under my skin when they were released and have remained there. This song was one of them. For me, the single most powerful line in the song was following:

Think of all the hate there is in Red China; And take a look around to Selma Alabama. 

Even as an eight year old I pondered the import that line. While we were taught that the Soviet Union might have wanted to defeat, conquer, and then enslave us; it was Red China that hated us so much they wanted to wipe us out of existence As we were taught back then that it was the Red Chinese who hated us; I wondered if there was that much hate in Selma Alabama. For if there was as much hate in Selma Alabama as there was in Red China, it had to be quite a lot of it.

I thought about Eve of Destruction and those lyrics about the hate in Selma, Alabama when I read about the conduct of a couple of senior managers recently. While they have both apologized for their conduct and comments that were clearly beyond the pale, I wondered that if you do say and act a certain way, if it really translates into who you really are. For the compliance practitioner, I wondered what such comments or actions might mean about a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or other senior management’s commitment to doing business in an ethical manner and in compliance with anti-corruption laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act.

The first has been nicknamed Nut-Rage and involved the (now former) Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-ah (Heather Cho), who threw one of the greatest diva-worthy (or perhaps five year-old worthy) public temper tantrums of all-time. An article in the BBC Online, entitled “Former Korean Air executive apologises for ‘nut rage” ,reported that “Ms Cho was onboard a Korean Airlines plane departing from New York for Incheon last week when she demanded a crew member to be removed, after she was served nuts in a bag, instead of on a plate.” Also according an article in Slate, entitled “Flight Attendant Forced to Kneel for Serving Nuts in a Bag (Instead of a Dish) to Korean Air Executive” by Daniel Politi, Ms. Cho was not simply content to disrupt the plane’s service, air traffic control and airport scheduling, he wrote “Just when you thought the whole story about the Korean Air executive who went nuts over some nuts couldn’t get more ridiculous, the head of the cabin crew said he was forced to kneel to apologize about how a flight attendant served some macadamia nuts. Just in case you haven’t been following the case, Heather Cho, the daughter of the airline’s chairman and the executive in charge of in-flight service, forced a plane to return back to the gate at New York’s JFK airport last week after a flight attendant dared to bring her macadamia nuts in a bag and not a dish. Cho forced the head of the cabin crew to get off the plane.”

But the story did not end there. In another BBC article, entitled “Korean Air executive ‘made steward kneel over nut rage, the head of the cabin crew also reported that “Once home, officials from the airline came to his home to ask him to say that Ms Cho did not use abusive language and that he had voluntarily got off the plane.” Not to be outdone in this attempt to obstruct the truth and intimidate the witness, the BBC article also reported “Korean Air initially defended Ms Cho, noting that she was responsible for overseeing flight service in her role as vice-president, but the company later apologised.”

Unfortunately the second event is much closer to home here in the US and involves the Sony hacking scandal, which has been an unmitigated disaster for the company. In addition to all of the salary information, personal social security numbers and corporate intellectual properties that have been released, Sony’s Entertainment Chairman Amy Pascal sent some emails that can only at best be characterized as racially insensitive in nature. Jason L. Riley, in a WSJ entitled article “What Do You Call A Black President”, wrote that Pascal and Producer Scott Rudin engaged in the following email colloquy “Last year, Ms. Pascal and Mr. Rudin were invited to a fundraiser for Mr. Obama by Jeffrey Katzenberg, a DreamWorks Animation bigwig and major Democratic donor. Before the event, Ms. Pascal and Mr. Rubin joked about having to attend and what to say to the president. “What should I ask the president at this stupid Jeffrey breakfast,” wrote Ms. Pascal. “Should I ask him if he liked Django”, a 2012 film about slavery. Mr. Rudin responds with his own suggestion, “12 Years a Slave.” The two go back and forth naming movies they imagine the president enjoying—“The Butler,” “Think Like a Man,” “Ride Along”—all of which feature black actors or racial themes.” While Riley opines that this ­tete-a-tete is political in nature, my Southern upbringing reminds me of the line from Eve of Destruction to Think of all the hate there is in Red China; And take a look around to Selma Alabama. Maybe if McGuire were singing the song today, he would expand his geographic horizons.

While both Ms. Cho and Ms. Pascal have apologized for their actions and as noted, Korean Airlines has terminated Ms. Cho from her position. If you are what you say and show to others; what does all that mean when such people get into senior management positions? What does it say about Korean Airlines that it (1) fostered such a culture where the daughter of the President is given a job she clearly knows nothing about, (2) the same person humiliates an employee in public, (3) the Company tries to cover-up the incident by intimidating the employee, and (4) defends the actions of the daughter? Think that company has a culture of compliance? How about if a compliance incident is reported – would the company try to cover it up or thoroughly investigate it? Would the company try to intimidate witnesses to get them to change their recollections of events? How would you answer these questions if the incident in question were not over some nuts being served but over a safety issue?

As to Sony, how do you imagine minority employees might feel, given Pascal’s comments about the President of the United States? What about employees that might complain about discrimination in employment practices? If the head of the studio communicates in the manner about the President, what can a regular employee expect; similar sensitivity? Maybe the lesson for Sony and Pascal is simpler and much more direct, Don’t put stupid stuff in email. For even if your company is not hacked like Sony; in today’s world such emails uncovered in the context of a FCPA investigation might indicate a tone at the top which is not something you wish a regulator to see. But at the end of the day, you are you claim you are.

For a YouTube video clip of Barry McGuire singing Eve of Destruction, click here.

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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