FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

April 1, 2015

Supply Chain as a Source of Compliance Innovation

Supply ChainOn this day we celebrate the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, when Villanova beat Georgetown for the 1985 national championship. Georgetown was the defending national champion and had beaten Villanova at each of their regular season meetings. In the final the Wildcats shot an amazing 79% from the field, hitting 22 of 28 shots plus 22 of 27 free throws. Wildcats forward Dwayne McCain, the leading scorer, had 17 points and 3 assists. The Wildcats’ 6’ 9” center Ed Pinckney outscored 7’ Hoyas’ center, Patrick Ewing, 16 points to 14 and 6 rebounds to 5 and was named MVP of the Final Four. It was one of the greatest basketball games I have ever seen and certainly one for the ages.

I thought about this game when I read an article in the most recent issue of Supply Chain Management Review by Jennifer Blackhurst, Pam Manhart and Emily Kohnke, entitled “The Five Key Components for SUPPLY CHAIN”. In their article the authors asked “what does it take to create meaningful innovation across supply chain partners?” Their findings were “Our researchers identify five components that are common to the most successful supply chain innovation partnerships.” The reason innovation in the Supply Chain is so important is that it is an area where companies cannot only affect costs but can move to gain a competitive advantage. To do so companies need to see their Supply Chain third parties as partners and not simply as entities to be squeezed for costs savings. By doing so, companies can use the Supply Chain in “not only new product development but also [in] process improvements”.

I found their article resonated for the compliance professional as well. It is almost universally recognized that third parties are your highest Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) risk. What if you could turn your Supply Chain from being considered a liability under the FCPA to an area that brings innovation to your compliance program? This is an area that not many compliance professionals have mined so I think the article is a useful starting point. The authors set out five keys to successful innovation spanning Supply Chain partners. They are: “(1) Don’t Settle for the Status Quo; (2) Hit the Road in Order to Hit Your Metrics; (3) Send Prospectors Not Auditors; (4) Show Me Yours and I’ll Show You Mine; and (5) Who’s Running the Show?”

Don’t Settle for the Status Quo

This means that you should not settle for simply the status quo. Innovation does not always come from a customer or even an in-house compliance practitioner. Here the key characteristics were noted to be “cooperative, proactive and incremental”. The authors emphasize that “you need to be leading the innovation change rather than catching up from behind.” If a company in your Supply Chain can suggest a better method to do compliance, particularly through a technological solution, it may be something you should well consider.

Hit the Road in Order to Hit Your Metrics

To truly understand your compliance risk from all third parties, including those in the Supply Chain, you have to get out of the ivory tower and on the road. This is even truer when exploring innovation. You do not have hit the road with the “primary goal to be the inception point for innovation” but through such interactions, innovation can come about “organically”. There is little downside for a compliance practitioner to go and visit a Supply Chain partner and have a “face-to-face meeting simply to get to know the partner better and more precisely identify that partner’s needs.”

Send Prospectors Not Auditors

While an audit clause is critical in any Supply Chain contract, both from a commercial and FCPA perspective, the authors believe that “Too often firms use supply chain managers as auditors when they are dealing with supply chain partners.” The authors call these types of managers “innovation partners.” Every third party should have a relationship manager, whether that third party is on the sales side or the Supply Chain side of the business. Moreover, the innovation partners are “able to see synergies where [business] partners can work together for the benefit of everyone involved.”

Show Me Yours and I’ll Show You Mine

Here the authors note, “Trust plays an extremely important role in supply chain innovation. Firms in successful innovations discussed a willingness to share resources and rewards and to develop their partners’ capabilities.” The authors believe that “Through the process of developing trust, firms understand their partner’s strategic goals.” I cannot think of a more applicable statement about FCPA compliance. Another way to consider this issue is that if your Supply Chain partner has trust in you and your compliance program, they could be more willing to work with you on the prevent and detect prongs of compliance regimes. Top down command structures may well be counter-productive.

Who’s Running the Show?

I found this point particularly interesting as for the authors, this prong means “who is doing what, but also what each firm is bringing to the relationship in terms of resources and capabilities.” In the compliance regime it could well lead to your Supply Chain partner taking a greater role in managing compliance in a specific arena or down a certain set of vendors. Your local Supply Chain partner might be stronger in the local culture, which could allow it to lead to collaborations by other vendors in localized anti-corruption networks or roundtables to help move the ball forward for doing business in compliance with the FCPA or other anti-corruption laws such as the UK Bribery Act.

The authors ended by remarking, “we noticed that leveraging lean and process improvement was mentioned by virtually every firm.” This is true in the area of process improvement, which is the essential nature of FCPA compliance. Another interesting insight from the authors was that utilization can increase through such innovation in the Supply Chain. Now imagine if you could increase your compliance process performance by considering innovations from your Supply Chain third parties? The authors conclude by stating that such innovation could lead to three “interesting outcomes 1) The trust and culture alignment is strengthened through the partnership innovation process leading to future innovations and improvement; 2) firms see what is needed in terms of characteristics in a partner firm so that they can propagate the success of prior innovations to additional partners; 3) by engaging supply chain partners as innovation partners, both sides reap rewards in a low cost, low risk, highly achievable manner.” With some innovation Villanova coach Rollie Massimino led his team over the prohibitive favorite Georgetown, and you may be able to tap into a resource immediately available at your fingertips, your Supply Chain.

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, 2015

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