FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

April 3, 2015

Why Tone at the Top Matters and Join the FCPA Professor in Houston

IMG_1173Over this week I have looked at some issues related to compensation and methods from other disciplines that a compliance practitioner might use to test and then improve a company’s third party management regime. Today, I want to go back to the starting point for any compliance program; that is the Tone at the Top. I was reminded of the absolute necessity of having a management not only committed to following the law but the actual doing of compliance when I read about the guilty verdicts in the Atlanta schools cheating scandal.

In an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “Atlanta Educators Are Convicted of Racketeering”, reporter Alan Blinder detailed the guilty verdicts handed down in an Atlanta state Superior Court this week where 11 of 12 defendants were convicted in a lengthy trial. Blinder wrote, “On their eighth day of deliberations, the jurors convicted 11 of the 12 defendants of racketeering, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison. Many of the defendants — a mixture of Atlanta public school teachers, testing coordinators and administrators — were also convicted of other charges, such as making false statements, that could add years to their sentences.” Most stunningly, the trial judge “ordered most of the educators jailed immediately, and they were led from the courtroom in handcuffs.”

The school district’s top administrator Dr. Beverly Hall, channeling her inner Ken Lay, had the temerity to pass away during the trial so there was no finding as to her conduct. Unrepentant to end she said “she had done nothing wrong and that her approach to education, which emphasized data, was not to blame.” When interviewed back in 2011, Dr. Hall had said, “I can’t accept that there’s a culture of cheating. What these 178 are accused of is horrific, but we have over 3,000 teachers.”

Think about those two statements for a moment. They mimic the same tired excuses used by apologizers in the anti-corruption world. First it was only a small subset of those involved who actually broke the law. In other words, the oldie but goodie rogue employee(s) defense. It did have the notable exception that there were 178 roguies out there lying and cheating. But more than the rogue employee defense, she emphasized that she obtained results, the scores on the State of Georgia’s standardized tests for public schools improved dramatically under her watch. In the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) anti-corruption world that is the same as “we had to do it to compete” argument. It is equally as inane as the rogue employee defense.

Moreover, a State of Georgia investigation “completed in 2011, led to findings that were startling and unsparing: Investigators concluded that cheating had occurred in at least 44 schools and that the district had been troubled by “organized and systemic misconduct.” Nearly 180 employees, including 38 principals, were accused of wrongdoing as part of an effort to inflate test scores and misrepresent the achievement of Atlanta’s students and schools. Investigators wrote in the report that Dr. Hall and her aides had “created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that had permitted “cheating — at all levels — to go unchecked for years.” How is that for tone from the very top?

I bring you another example from a company I once worked at whose management locked themselves behind bolted doors on a floor in the building not accessible by any employees. And just in case someone did make onto this executive floor, there was an armed police presence as a last ditch security measure. The locked down top floor was after the following security measures were already in place: (1) you had to badge in to get into the parking garage, (2) building access was by card entry, (3) elevator access was by card entry, and (4) floor access was by card entry.

Why would senior executives barricade themselves behind such massive physical protection? Did they do this because crazed competitors were sending in assassins, because the company was so profitable and hence unassailable as a competitor? How about something more nefarious such as international hit squads roaming through international businesses in Houston, picking off key executives? Alas the explanation was not anything so exotic. With all of these security measures in place the reason was to keep mere mortal employees away from senior management. What type of message that does send to employee? Much like the one I had growing up, speak only when spoken to.

The point of all this is that tone does matter. Senior management must be committed and communicate its commitment to not only obeying laws but also complying with laws. In the FCPA world, that means you must have a compliance program in place that meets the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program as set out in the FCPA Guidance.

On a completely different note as a compliance practitioner, if you want to have a shot at some serious professional growth and you are in the Houston area, somewhere else in Texas or anywhere else in the South, I suggest you consider attending the FCPA Professor’s FCPA Institute, which will be held in Houston on Monday, May 4 and Tuesday, May 5. The Professor’s goal in leading this first Texas FCPA Institute is “to develop and enhance fundamental skills relevant to the FCPA and FCPA compliance in a stimulating and professional environment with a focus on learning. Information at the FCPA Institute is presented in an integrated and cohesive way by an expert instructor with FCPA practice and teaching experience.” Some of the topics, which will be covered, include the following:

  • An informed understanding of why the FCPA became a law and what it seeks to accomplish;
  • A comprehensive understanding of the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records and internal controls provisions and related enforcement theories;
  • Various realties of the global marketplace which often give rise to FCPA scrutiny;
  • The typical origins of FCPA enforcement actions including the prominence of corporate voluntary disclosures;
  • The “three buckets” of FCPA financial exposure and how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are typically not the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement;
  • Facts and figures relevant to corporate and individual FCPA enforcement actions including how corporate settlement amounts are calculated;
  • How FCPA scrutiny and enforcement can result in related foreign law enforcement investigations as well as other negative business effects from market capitalization issues, to merger and acquisition activity, to FCPA related civil suits; and
  • Practical and provocative reasons for the general increase in FCPA enforcement.

In other words, it is what you have come to expect from the FCPA Professor; well-thought out reasoned analysis, practical knowledge and learning, and provocative thinking and assessment. But this is also your chance to attend a two-day Institute with one of the most original thinkers in the FCPA space. The FCPA Institute will provide insights into the topics more near and dear to my heart as a ‘nuts and bolts guy’. In addition to the above substantive knowledge, FCPA Institute participants will gain in-demand, practical skills to best manage and minimize FCPA risk by:

  • Practicing FCPA issue-spotting through video exercises;
  • Conducting a FCPA risk assessment;
  • Learning FCPA compliance best practices, including as to third parties;
  • Learning how to effectively communicate FCPA compliance expectations; and
  • Grading a FCPA code of conduct.

In addition, attorneys who complete the FCPA Institute may be eligible to receive those all-important Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits. The sponsors, King & Spalding, will be seeking CLE credit in CA, GA, NY, TX and if needed in NC and VA. Actual CLE credit will be determined at the end of the program based on actual program time. Attorneys may be eligible to receive CLE credit through reciprocity or attorney self-submission in other states as well.

I hope that you can join the FCPA Professor for this FCPA Institute. I have previously said, “if the FCPA Professor writes about it you need to read it. While you may disagree with him, your FCPA perspective and experience will be enriched by the exercise.” I would now add to this statement that if the FCPA Professor puts on his FCPA Institute you should attend. Not only will you garner a better understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of the law and the plain words of its text; you will also be able to articulate many of the issues which befall companies caught up in a FCPA investigation to your senior management in a way that will help them understand the need for a robust compliance program.

To register for the FCPA Institute, or for more information, 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, 2015

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