Let’s play two! That was perhaps the most famous maxim from Ernie Banks, who died this past weekend at the age of 83. As for a sobriquet, it does not get much better than being known as ‘Mr. Cub’ from any baseball fan from 9 to 90. Banks was famous as one of the greatest power-hitting shortstops, leading the National League (NL) in homers and runs batted in, while playing that position as an All-Star in 1958 and 1959. He ended up with over 500 career home runs, when that actually meant something. But he was also known as ‘Mr. Sunshine’ for having one of the most pleasant dispositions of anyone ever to play Major League Baseball (MLB). He remained close to the Cubs team and made frequent appearances at their spring training grounds, in Arizona. Author Harry Strong wrote in 2013 that “the Chicago Cubs do not have a mascot, but they hardly need one when the face of the franchise is still so visible.” Mr. Cub indeed.
I also considered the invasion of Europe by the Ottoman Empire that culminated in the siege of Vienna, in 1683. This marked the high-water mark for the Ottomans and after their defeat they began a long slide until they became known as the ‘sick man of Europe’ in the early 1900s. One of the more interesting things I learned was that the original walls surrounding Vienna had been constructed from monies paid to the Holy Roman Emperor as his ransom for releasing the English King Richard the Lionhearted back in 1194. Talk about getting some serious value for your spending.
I thought about that initial use of monies by the Holy Roman Emperor, who was then the King of Vienna almost 500 years before the Ottoman invasion and how the later walls of Vienna were re-engineered to repulse not only more modern siege weapons but even the advent of gunpowder and cannon fire which the Ottomans tried to use to batter the city into submission.
While the rest of the US economy is finally on an uptick, things down here in Texas are not so rosy with the price of oil hovering at less than $50 per barrel. Major energy service companies have announced cutbacks in spending and layoffs have commenced in a major way, with some companies trimming their work force by over 10% at this early stage. Even companies that have not laid off workers, as yet, are seriously considering no raises or bonuses for the largest parts of their employee base for 2015. For those in the compliance space, viewed as non-revenue generating overhead, things are beginning to get ugly, if not downright scary.
What does this economic reversal mean for compliance? First, and foremost, your compliance function has to continue to operate to prevent, detect and remediate compliance issues. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will not consider arguments that ‘we did all we could with what we had’ when you are still operating in places where there is a high indicia of bribery and corruption. But what do Mr. Cub and the Siege of Vienna have with this economic conundrum facing those Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs) and compliance practitioners in the energy space? Both of these examples point out that you can use other parts of your organization to affect your compliance efforts going forward. Banks was associated with the Cubs for over 60 years. The walls of Vienna, originally constructed in the 13th century, were used as a base for the next 400 years. I have long advocated that your Human Resource (HR) function should be a first-rate friend of your compliance function. There are several areas where HR has expertise that can facilitate your compliance efforts going forward. These include hiring, employee evaluation and succession planning to help enable you to hire, reward and promote employees with the values that compliment your compliance efforts.
Other areas include the IT and Marketing departments. Another person I would add is the Corporate Secretary, the reason for this is that the Corporate Secretary has several constituencies within the company that he or she may work with and for. This can provide an opportunity to view a company’s ethics and compliance program and to help shape and direct it. The Corporate Secretary, head of IT or Marketing may be excellent resources to the CCO, that may be under-utilized. It might be worth a cup of coffee or short meeting to see what they might think about your ethics and compliance program or how they might be able to assist you in your efforts.
Another way to think through some of these issues was presented in a recent article in the Financial Times (FT) Fast Times column, entitled “Local lessons for taking on the world”, by Tyler Brûlé. In this article he pointed to some roundtable discussions he attended at the recent conference in Davos, where local mayors discussed some “tried – and – tested policies for governing thousands of people that can be applied to millions of people”. I found them some excellent thoughts for a CCO or compliance practitioner who might be required to do more with less on a rather immediate basis.
Degree or not degree. The Swiss do not believe that a person must have an advanced degree to fix high-speed cabling above a mountain pass or to be a fine hotel general manager. Brûlé notes there is “An emphasis on apprenticeships and vocational education means more workers with useful skills, rather than thousands of unemployed people with useless degrees.” For the CCO, think about using non-lawyer resources in key roles such as using a well-trained paralegal to oversee your ongoing third party program.
Support compliance locally. With an emphasis on not just locally grown but also locally made, the Swiss use this practice to aid many different and diverse areas from protecting small businesses to wasteful global logistics. Brûlé said that “Buying local helps expand the wealth base and forces big retailers to cater to an audience who appreciate that many items are still Made in Switzerland.” For the compliance practitioner this means using more local resources to home grow compliance in various regions outside the US.
Join the compliance community. Brûlé believes that “New arrivals need to recognize that they’re signing up to Switzerland’s social codes, and not the other way around.” While this might not seem Politically Correct from the political perspective, from the compliance perspective you should work more closely with HR to hire folks who profess the same values that you espouse.
High-value versus value engineering. Brûlé writes that the Swiss have “A tradition of building infrastructure, housing and offices right the first time rather than engineering them so they need to be updated constantly creates a culture where quality is admired and consumers expect value for money rather than settling for “good enough”.” I recognize that programs, policies and procedures need fine-tuning, however, from the walls of Vienna being in use for over 400 years to the Cubs using Ernie Banks as an institution for nearly that long shows that high-value can be derived from multiple sources. As a compliance practitioner you are only limited by your own imagination to make things work, through trial and error if need be but you can create something which will work for some time.
Talk to me. Interestingly Brûlé found that “the Swiss are among the lowest users of social media in Europe.” He chalked this up to “village life, good public transport and a sense of community.” If there is one skill a CCO or compliance practitioner should learn, work on and employ continuously it is to listen. Beyond that your employee base is in large part looking for your input on how to do business ethically and in compliance. So talk to them as well.
So farewell to Ernie Banks and I hope that the Cubs have a better century in the 21st than they had in the 20th.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2015