FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

July 6, 2015

The All-Star Game and Tone at the Top

All Star GameToday is the 83rd anniversary of the initial Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game, which took place on this date in 1933, in Chicago’s Comiskey Park. The brainchild of a determined sports editor, the event was designed to bolster the sport and improve its reputation during the darkest years of the Great Depression. The sports editor of the Chicago Tribune convinced his owner to allow him to lobby for the game with MLB’s Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and the owners. To win over the public, they allowed fan balloting for the Game’s players. The proceeds went to a charity for retired baseball players. The Game was a rousing success and has continued as an institution to this day.

The conception and execution of the first All-Star Game shows what a committed tone from top management can create. Last week I wrote a couple of posts dealing with the tone for an organization around compliance with anti-corruption laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA); one on tone in the middle and one on tone at the bottom. As usual, when I begin writing about a topic, I do not seem to be able to start where I thought I would end. So today, with the anniversary of the first MLB All-Star Game in mind, I decided to round out my triumvirate of posts by concluding with some thoughts on Tone at the Top and the reasons why it is so important to any anti-corruption compliance program.

Quite simply, any compliance program starts at the top and flows down throughout the company. Before you arrive at tone in the middle and bottom, it must start with a commitment at the top. All regulatory schemes for anti-corruption compliance recognize this key hypothesis. The concept of an appropriate tone at the top is in the US Sentencing Guidelines for organizations accused of violating the FCPA; the FCPA Guidance; the UK Bribery Act’s Six Principles of Adequate Procedures; and the OECD Good Practice Guidance on Internal Controls, Ethics and Compliance (OECD Good Practices). The reason all of these guidelines incorporate it into their respective practices is that all employees look to the top of the company to see what is important.

The US Sentencing Guidelines reads:

High-level personnel and substantial authority personnel of the organization shall be knowledgeable about the content and operation of the compliance and ethics program … and shall promote an organizational culture that encourages ethical conduct and a commitment to compliance with the law. 

The OECD Good Practices reads:

  1. strong, explicit and visible support and commitment from senior management to the company’s internal controls, ethics and compliance programs or measures for preventing and detecting foreign bribery; 

The UK Bribery Act’s Six Principles of Adequate Procedures reads:

The top-level management of a commercial organisation (be it a board of directors, the owners or any other equivalent body or person) are committed to preventing bribery by persons associated with it. They foster a culture within the organisation in which bribery is never acceptable. 

The FCPA Guidance, under the section entitled “Commitment from Senior Management and a Clearly Articulated Policy Against Corruption”, states, “Within a business organization, compliance begins with the board of directors and senior executives setting the proper tone for the rest of the company. Managers and employees take their cues from these corporate leaders. Thus, DOJ and SEC consider the commitment of corporate leaders to a “culture of compliance” and look to see if this high-level commitment is also reinforced and implemented by middle managers and employees at all levels of a business.” But the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) expect more than simply to have senior management say the right things. They both expect that such message will be pushed down the ranks of an enterprise so that “A strong ethical culture directly supports a strong compliance program. By adhering to ethical standards, senior managers will inspire middle managers to reinforce those standards. Compliant middle managers, in turn, will encourage employees to strive to attain those standards throughout the organizational structure. In short, compliance with the FCPA and ethical rules must start at the top. DOJ and SEC thus evaluate whether senior management has clearly articulated company stan­dards, communicated them in unambiguous terms, adhered to them scrupulously, and disseminated them throughout the organization.”

The FCPA world is riddled with cases where the abject failure of any ethical “Tone at the Top” led to enforcement actions and large monetary settlements. In the two largest monetary settlements of enforcement actions to date, Siemens and Halliburton, for the actions of its former subsidiary KBR, the government specifically noted the companies’ pervasive tolerance for bribery. In the Siemens case, for example, the SEC noted that the company’s culture “had long been at odds with the FCPA” and was one in which bribery “was tolerated and even rewarded at the highest levels”. Likewise, in the Halliburton matter, the government noted that “tolerance of the offense by substantial authority personnel was pervasive” throughout the organization.

So how can a company overcome these employee attitudes and set, or re-set, its “Tone at the Top”? In a 2008 speech to the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting, reprinted in Ethisphere, Larry Thompson, PepsiCo Executive Vice President (EVP) of Governmental Affairs, General Counsel (GC) and Secretary, discussed the work of Professor Lynn Sharp at Harvard. From Professor Sharp’s writings, Mr. Thompson cited five factors, which are critical in establishing an effective integrity program and to set the right “Tone at the Top”.

  1. The guiding values of a company must make sense and be clearly communicated.
  2. The company’s leader must be personally committed and willing to take action on the values.
  3. A company’s systems and structures must support its guiding principles.
  4. A company’s values must be integrated into normal channels of management decision-making and reflected in the company’s critical decisions.
  5. Managers must be empowered to make ethically sound decisions on a day-to-day basis.

David Lawler, writing in his book “Frequently Asked Questions in Anti-Bribery and Corruption, boiled it down as follows “Whatever the size, structure or market of a commercial organization, top-level management’s commitment to bribery prevention is likely to include communication of the organization’s anti-bribery stance and appropriate degree of involvement in developing bribery prevention procedures.” Lawler went on to provide a short list of points that he suggests senior management engage in to communicate the type of tone to follow an anti-corruption regime. I had a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a client who, after I described his role in a best practices compliance program, observed, “You want me to be the ambassador for compliance.” I immediately averred in the affirmative. The following is a list of things that a CEO can do as an ‘Ambassador of Compliance’:

  • Reject a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality;
  • Not just ‘talk-the-talk’ but ‘walk-the-walk’ of compliance;
  • Oversee creation of a written statement of a zero tolerance towards bribery and corruption;
  • Appoint and fully resource, with money and headcount, a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO);
  • Oversee the development of a Code of Conduct and written compliance program implementing it;
  • Ensure there are compliance metrics on all key business reports;
  • Provide leadership to middle managers to facilitate filtering of the zero tolerance message down throughout the organization;
  • Not only have a whistleblowing, reporting or speak up channel but celebrate it;
  • Keep talking about doing the right thing;
  • Make sure that you are seen providing your CCO with access to yourself and the Board of Directors.

Coming at it from a different perspective, author Martin Biegelman provides some concrete examples in his book, entitled “Building a World Class Compliance Program – Best Practices and Strategies for Success”. He begins the chapter discussed here with the statement “The road to compliance starts at the top.” There is probably no dispute that a company takes on the tone of its top management. Biegelman cites to a list used by Joe Murphy regarding actions a CEO can demonstrate to set the requisite tone from the Captain’s Chair of any business. The list is as follows:

  1. Keep a copy of the Constitution on your Desk. Have a dog-eared copy of your company’s Code of Conduct on your desktop and be seen using it.
  2. Clout. Make sure your compliance department has authority, influence and budget within the company. Have your Chief Compliance Officer report directly to the Board of Directors.
  3. Make them Accountable. At Senior Executive meetings, have each participant report on what they have done to further the compliance function in their business unit.
  4. Sticks and Carrots. Have both sanctions for violation of company compliance and ethics policies and incentives for doing business in a compliant manner.
  5. Don’t do as I say, Do as I do. Turn down an expensive dinner or trip offered by a vendor. Pass on a gift that you may have received. Turn down a transaction based upon ethical considerations.
  6. Be a Student. Be seen at intra-company compliance training. Take a one or two day course or attend a compliance conference outside your organization.
  7. Award Compliance. You should recognize outstanding compliance efforts with companywide announcements and awards.
  8. The Board. Recruit a nationally known compliance expert to sit on your company’s Board and chair the audit or compliance committee.
  9. Independent Review. Obtain an independent, outside review of your company’s compliance program and report the results to the Board’s Audit Committee.
  10. Vendors. Mandate that all vendors in your Supply Chain embrace compliance and ethics as a business model. If not, pass on doing business with them.
  11. Network. Talk to others in your industry and your peers on how to improve your company’s compliance efforts. 

Many companies struggle with some type of metric that can be used for upper management regarding compliance and communication of a company’s compliance values. One technique might be to require the CEO to post companywide emails or other communications once a quarter on some compliance related topic. The CEO’s direct reports would then also be required to email their senior management staff a minimum of once per quarter on a compliance topic. One can cascade this down the company as far as is practicable. Reminders can be set for each communication so that all personnel know when it is time to send out the message. If these communications are timely made, this metric has been met.

I hope that you can use some of the techniques for setting, creating and moving an appropriate tone for compliance throughout your organization. And, of course, enjoy the 2015 All-Star Game. Although the Astros now play in the American League (AL), my heart is still with the National League (NL).

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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