FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

May 21, 2015

Compliance Week 2015 Wrap Up

Wrap UpCompliance Week 2015 has ended. This year was the tenth anniversary of the annual conference and in many ways I found it to be the best one yet. Matt Kelly and his team put together a conference and experience, which was absolutely first-rate. If you were not able to make this year’s event, I hope you will join us for Compliance Week 2016, which Matt announced the dates for at the conclusion of this year’s event. The dates for 2016 are May 23-26, back of course in Washington DC to be held yet again at the Mayflower Hotel. I wanted to give you some of my thoughts on the highlights of this year’s event and what made it so unique.

At my age, I am somewhat loathe to channel my teenage daughter but the first thing that I noticed was a very different vibe this year over past year’s conferences. From the Cocktail Party reception held on Sunday night, all the way through the conclusion of the event, there seemed to be an air that I have not quite been able to put my finger on. It was more than an acknowledgement and perhaps even an excitement about how far the compliance profession has come in the past ten years. While I have written about the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and compliance profession as CCO 2.0, I had the feeling that we may be moving on to CCO 3.0, as that was even the title of a session.

But this vibe was more tangible than simply a feeling. One key ingredient for me was the use of social media into the conference experience. While many events have a conference app, which can provide you information on such things as the agenda, speakers and their presentations, room locations and the like; the Compliance Week 2015 app was fully interactive, allowing you to live tweet, send IM to fellow conference attendees and receive text messages when a room changed or other conference alteration occurred. It also provided a virtual help desk for all attendees.

Many of sessions were led by CCOs from major corporations and they were able to provide a strategic vision of where they were going at their organizations. This was kicked off from the start of the conference, from the first panel on the first day where the CCOs from Boeing, GE and the Director of Compliance for Wal-Mart began the event. Obviously these are three of the largest companies in the US and do business on a worldwide basis. Yet, while sharing their strategic visions, each one was able to provide a solid example from their respective organization that a CCO or compliance practitioner from any sized company could implement. From Wal-Mart with a workforce of 2.2 million employees, it was keep the message simple. From Boeing, it was incorporate any compliance failures as teaching moments or lessons learned into your internal compliance training going forward. From GE, it was how to inculcate and incorporate compliance into your everyday business planning.

The conversations were excellent as usual. I led the FCPA conversation and there were several alumni present, who told me they look forward to attending each year. One of the reasons is that there is no avenue in their hometowns to get together in an environment to discuss issues of mutual concern. It is concept that Mike Snyder and I used in founding the Houston Compliance Roundtable. A place where you can ask any question and have it answered by another compliance professional in an environment where Chatham House rules apply. While I certainly started the discussion, it quickly became fully interactive with all participants sharing their views on a variety of topics. While we have some great compliance talent in Houston at our Roundtable, it cannot top the level of maturity and sophistication present at the Compliance Week annual conference. We all benefited from the experience.

This experience was doubled when I led a breakfast event on Tuesday. While an inducement to attend was a complimentary copy of my book Doing Compliance, there were 25 attendees who joined me for a very engaging and free-flowing conversation about the state of compliance, we practitioners and where enforcement may be heading. Compliance Week treated us all to breakfast and, once again, I probably learned as much as any one. But since Chatham House rules were in effect, I cannot report on any of the substantive things that were discussed. I will share with you that I am excited to lead such a breakfast again next year and I hope you will be one of the 25 to sign up.

As always there were a number of government representatives who spoke at Compliance Week again this year. For me, the parade was led by Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. While I will be writing further, and in more detail, about Caldwell’s remarks, she said a few things that I think bear emphasis. One was that compliance professionals need to work towards more data analytics in the form of transaction monitoring to assist in moving to a prevent and even predictive and prescriptive mode for your best practice compliance program. Next she emphasized that your compliance program must not be static but must evolve as your business risks evolve. Finally, and much closer to my heart, were her remarks that you need to “sensitize your business partners to compliance.” It was if she was channeling her inner Scott Killingsworth with his groundbreaking work on ‘Private-to-Private’ or P2P compliance solutions. Or, as I might say, she was advocating a business solution to the legal problem of bribery and corruption across the globe.

But Caldwell was not the only DOJ representative as we had Laurie Perkins, Assistant Chief, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit and Kara Brockmeyer, Chief, FCPA Unit; Division of Enforcement from Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), on a panel moderated by yours truly. First I would urge that if you are ever asked to moderate a panel with FCPA enforcers and regulators, jump at the chance. The reason is that you get to ask the questions you want answers to; even if you get past your prepared questions, when there is a lull in questions from the audience, you can follow up with something you want to know or in my case always wanted to know. So I asked some basic questions like: What is Criminal Information? (to Perkins) and Could you explain the process for the SEC’s Administrative Procedure? (to Brockmeyer). I was certainly enlightened by their answers to both questions.

The event sponsors were of course there to provide information on their solutions to assist any compliance practitioner. If you have never been to an event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, the conference rooms are along a wide hall that allows good people flow and adequate room for the sponsors and others to set up, meet attendees and discuss their products and services. I view the sponsors and vendors as a part of the compliance solution going forward and while they are clearly there to sell; they also engage in a fair amount of education. But the education runs both ways with many compliance practitioners communicating needs they have which can be incorporated into new product developments.

Unfortunately Compliance Week 2015 had to come to an end. But the feeling, information and new friends I met will last with me until Compliance Week 2016 next year. I hope you will plan to join me.

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

March 12, 2015

Protections for CCOs from Wrongful Termination

Wrongful TerminationThis week the Houston Texans unceremoniously cut the franchise’s greatest player in its short history, receiver Andre Johnson. This was after his being hauled into the office of the head coach and being told that he would only need to work half as hard next year. As reported by Jerome Solomon in the Houston Chronicle article entitled “Move inevitable, but team bungles its handling”, Head Coach Bill O’Brien told Johnson that his catch total would drop from the 84 he has averaged in his 12 year career with the Texans down to “around 40 passes next season.” But O’Brien went on to add the team’s certain Hall of Fame receiver “wasn’t likely to be a starter next season, definitely not for all of the games.” So much for playing your best player at his position on a full-time basis, but hey, at least the information was made public.

Now imagine you are a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and have been one of your company’s senior management for the better part of the past 12 years. While you may not have been the most important member of the management team you certainly have helped navigate the company through rough compliance waters. Now imagine the company Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who tells you that although he has no one in mind to replace you (other than a less experienced and a smaller-salaried compliance specialist) your services will only be needed half the time in the coming year. What if this is in response to advice the head of the company did not like? What should the response be?

You can consider the departure from MF Global of its Chief Risk Officer, the financial services equivalent of a CCO. As reported in a New York Times (NYT) article entitled “MF Global’s Risk Officer Said to Lack Authority” Ben Protess and Azam Ahmed reported that the company replaced its Chief Risk Officer, Michael Roseman, after he “repeatedly clashed with Mr. Corzine [the CEO] over the firm’s purchase of European sovereign debt.” He was given a large severance package and left the company. When he left, there was no public reason given. His replacement was brought into the position with reduced authority.

If you are a public company, you may well need to heed the advice of fraud and compliance expert Jonathan Marks, a partner at Crowe Horwath LLP, who advocates that any time a CCO, a key executive, is dismissed it should be an 8K reporting event because the departure may be a signal of a change in the company’s attitude towards compliance or an alleged ethical breach had taken place. A similar view was expressed by Michael W. Peregrine in a NYT article entitled “Another View: MF Global’s Corporate Governance Lesson”, where he wrote that a “compliance officer is the equivalent of a “protected class” for governance purposes, and the sooner leadership gets that, the better.” Particularly in the post Sarbanes-Oxley world, a company’s CCO is a “linchpin in organizational efforts to comply with applicable law.” When a company fires (or asks him/her to resign), it is a significance decision for all involved in corporate governance and should not be solely done at the discretion of the CEO alone.

In its Code of Ethics for Compliance and Ethics Professionals, the Society for Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) has postulated Rule 1.4, which reads, “If, in the course of their work, CEPs become aware of any decision by their employing organization which, if implemented, would constitute misconduct, the professional shall: (a) refuse to consent to the decision; (b) escalate the matter, including to the highest governing body, as appropriate; (c) if serious issues remain unresolved after exercising “a” and “b”, consider resignation; and (d) report the decision to public officials when required by law.” As commentary to this rule, the SCCE said, “The duty of a compliance and ethics professional goes beyond a duty to the employing organization, inasmuch as his/her duty to the public and to the profession includes prevention of organizational misconduct. The CEP should exhaust all internal means available to deter his/her employing organization, its employees and agents from engaging in misconduct. The CEP should escalate matters to the highest governing body as appropriate, including whenever: a) directed to do so by that body, e.g., by a board resolution; b) escalation to management has proved ineffective; or c) the CEP believes escalation to management would be futile. CEPs should consider resignation only as a last resort, since CEPs may be the only remaining barrier to misconduct. A letter of resignation should set forth to senior management and the highest governing body of the employing organization in full detail and with complete candor all of the conditions that necessitate his/her action. In complex organizations, the highest governing body may be the highest governing body of a parent corporation.”

What about compensation? The Department of Justice (DOJ) has made clear that it expects a CCO to resign if the company refuses advice and violates the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The former head of the DOJ-FCPA unit Chuck Duross went so far as to compare CCOs and compliance practitioners to the Texans at the Alamo. To be fair to Duross, I think he was focusing more on the line in the sand part of the story, while I took that to mean they were all slaughtered for what they believed in. But whichever interpretation you may choose to put on it, the DOJ clearly expects a CCO to stand up and if a CEO does not like what they say, he or she must resign. This puts CCOs and compliance practitioners in a very difficult position, particularly if there is no exit compensation for doing the right thing by standing up.

I think the next step should be for the DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to begin to discuss the need for contractual protection of CCOs and other compliance practitioners against retaliation for standing up against corruption and bribery. The standard could simply be one that protects a CCO and other compliance practitioners against termination without cause. Just as the SEC is investigating whether companies are trying to muzzle whistleblowers through post-employment Confidentiality Agreements, I think they should consider whether CCOs and other compliance practitioners need more employment protection. I think the SEC should also consider the proposals of Marks regarding the required 8K or other public reporting of the dismissal or resignation of any CCO. Finally, I would expand on Peregrine’s suggestion and require that a company Board of Directors approve any dismissal of a CCO. With these protections in place, a CCO or compliance practitioner would have the ability to confront management who might take business decisions that violate the FCPA.

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

 

 

January 26, 2015

Good Bye to Mr. Cub, the Siege of Vienna and Doing More Compliance with Less

Ernie BanksLet’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.

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

December 12, 2014

Seamus Heaney and Compliance With a Seat at the Table

Seamus Heaney and beowulfI have long been fascinated with the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I came to know him thought his 1999 translation of Beowulf. While I was aware that he had been awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature, I did not know his work as an Irish poet. However, this was rectified in a piece in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), entitled “A stay against confusion – Seamus Heaney and the Ireland of his time”, by Roy Foster. In this piece he reviewed the evolution of Heaney’s poetry through the 1960s and 1990s. Foster believed that Heaney’s work in many ways mimicked the growth that “Irish intellectual as well as social and economic life”. Heaney began as a ‘nuts and bolts’ type of poet and moved to become a Yeatsian figure as the national poet of Ireland.

I thought about that growth and Foster’s article when I considered the question of what happens if you seek for something and then actually get it? For instance, you may have wanted a seat at the C-Suite table as a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and now you have one. What happens now, for instance in the situation where you find out that your company has decided to enter a new overseas market with a new product offering? The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who championed you coming onboard with the big boys (or perhaps big girls) team looks down and says, “We need an analysis from the compliance perspective by the end of the week?” Where do you begin?

Obviously there are some preconditions for success such as your company should have a product that you can make and sell overseas for a profit. Further, you should have the time, money and sophistication to develop an international distribution network and you have the home office infrastructure to support a truly international business. Finally, you should have a senior management with at least an appreciation of compliance challenges in the target, with the personnel, technological solutions and internal training to address and meet these challenges. As you begin to think through this assignment you fall back on the four basic questions of (1) Who will we sell to? (2) What are we going to sell? (3) Where will we sell? (4) How will we sell?

Who will we sell to?

For any anti-corruption analysis you need to begin here as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) applies to commercial relationships with foreign governments or instrumentalities such as state owned enterprises. Will your end using-direct customers be foreign governments or privately owned companies? What if your customers are distributors or other middlemen who will then sell to foreign governments or state owned enterprises? What about licenses; will you need special permits to sell to a foreign government or state owned enterprise or will you need some type of basic permit simply to transact business? If your company is subject to the UK Bribery Act this public/private distinction does not exist.

What are we going to sell?

What is the product or service you wish to take internationally? I will assume your company has done the market studies to ascertain it is a viable commercial concept. If it a product, is it a complete or partial product? Will you manufacture here in the US and only sell internationally or will you manufacture abroad as well? If it is here in the US, what about spare parts and accessories, will you need to obtain any licenses overseas? What about your technology, will that component require any licenses? If you will manufacture outside the corporate offices in the US, how will you assure quality in your supply chain? Conversely, if you manufacture in the US, do your supplier agreements allow you to resell outside the US?

Where will we sell? 

This question may seem more important for export control issues; however it is also important in the anti-corruption world. Obviously this is because certain geographic areas are more prone to corruption than others. A starting place might be the Transparency International-Corruption Perception Index but you can also use tools such as the recently released TRACE Matrix which provides a much broader assessment of corruption indices and give you additional insight into a fuller panoply of corruption risks in a country. In addition to the basic corruption analysis you need to ascertain whether you can even sell your products in a new country, either because of US export regulations or the end using jurisdictions laws. You should also focus on the business culture of a country and whether it is compatible in doing business in compliance with relevant anti-corruption legislation. This will also help you in your search to find any local business partners. 

How are you going to sell?

This is one of the most important questions you can ask under a FCPA analysis. It is because well over 90% of all FCPA enforcement actions involve third parties. If this is your first international sales effort, your company probably does not have an international based employee sales force. This means you will most probably need in-country partners for your target markets. Some of the most basic sales arrangements for third parties are as follows:

  1. Agent/Sales Representative – This person or entity is an independent third party from the company. Compensation is usually commission based or combined with a periodic fee plus commission. It is generally viewed as the highest risk from the anti-corruption perspective but you will have a direct relationship with the end-using customer.
  2. Distributor/Retailer – This person or entity is an independent third party from the company. Your company will sell to the distributor/retailer who then resells your product. You will have less visibility into the end user and hence a greater export control risk. Consignment is a variation on this model but if you are warehousing you will need to be aware of other US rules such as revenue recognition under US GAAP or local, indigenous rules on storage and warehousing.
  3. Consultant – This is also an independent third party who is paid a periodic fee. The fee can be more easily assessed for an hourly or service based rather than simply a commission based fee structure.

There are some other sales arrangements that you may whish to consider. You can acquire a local business and run it as your own company. Of course if you do so, you may buy all of these liabilities, both known and unknown. You can joint venture with another local company. Here you may have the dual problems of less actual control yet the same amount of potential exposure, particularly under the FCPA if you fail to perform the requisite pre-acquisition due diligence and allow any illegal conduct to continue going forward. You can issue a manufacturing license to an in-country manufacturer and allow them to make and then sell your product using your technology. Finally, you can issue a brand license where you license an existing company to put your brand name on your product manufactured by another entity. Of course if you use any of these types of arrangements you will need to go through a full third party management cycle; consisting of a business justification, questionnaire, due diligence, contract and management thereafter.

From the internal control perspective you will need to make sure you have several key compliance related controls in place. This will include the aforementioned vetting of all customers and third parties; appropriate controls over each transaction, including both quotes and contracts; empowered and non-conflicted employees; and finally training and self-auditing. You will need separate controls over payment terms and payment mechanisms and controls to align shipping and export controls. Finally, do not forget the omnipresent segregation of duties and control over the vendor master file.

Lastly, you should focus on your high-risk points in any of the above. These include your full vetting and management of third parties. You should pay attention as to how you became aware of these third party sales representatives. You will also need to pay attention to your freight forwarders and other export control representatives. You will need to be vigilant going forward for outright bribes paid in either cash or other values such as free products, lavish travel, gifts and entertainment, especially if the travel has no business purpose.

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

December 1, 2014

Sherlock Holmes and Innovation in the Compliance Function, Part I – A Study In Scarlet

A Study in ScarletToday begins a week of double themed blog-posts. First I am back with an homage to Sherlock Holmes, for it was in the magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual that the characters Sherlock Holmes and Watson were introduced to the world in 1887, in the short story A Study in Scarlet. The second theme will be innovation in the compliance department. I will take some recent concepts explored in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and apply them to innovation and development of your compliance function. I hope that you will both enjoy my dual themed week and find it helpful.

Today I begin with the first novel, A Study in Scarlet. There are two items of note that I learnt in researching this work. The first is that it was written in 1886 and even Conan Doyle had trouble finding a publisher for what went on to become the most famous detective character of all-time. The second was the title. I had always thought it referred to the color of blood but it turns out that it comes from a speech given by Holmes to Dr. Watson on the nature of his work, in which he describes the story’s murder investigation as his “study in scarlet”: “There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.” Furthermore, a ‘study’ is a preliminary drawing, sketch or painting done in preparation for a finished piece.

I thought Doyle’s first work would provide an excellent entrée into today’s topic, that being leadership in the compliance function. While many compliance departments may have begun more as a command and control function, set up by lawyers to comply with anti-bribery laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or others; this type of leadership model is now becoming outmoded in today’s world. It is not that employees are interested in the ‘why’ they should do business ethically and in compliance with such laws but it is more that power is shifting inside corporations. In a HBR article, entitled “Understanding “New Power””, authors Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms explore how leadership dynamics are changing and what companies might be able to do to harness them. I found them to have some excellent insights, which a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) moving to CCO 2.0 or compliance practitioner might be able to garner for a compliance function.

The authors begin by noting that ‘new power’ differs from ‘old power’ in a bi-lateral dimension of intersection. This intersection is between the models used to exercise power and the values which are now embraced. It is the understanding of this shift in power, which will facilitate the compliance function moving more to the forefront of a business integration role. The new power models are fourfold. Under sharing and shaping a company is much more integrated with its customers and supply chain. Second is funding which continues this integration by adding a vertical component of funding, whether equity positions or some other type of funding. Third is producing in which “participants go beyond supporting or sharing other people’s efforts and contribute their own.” Finally, there is co-ownership, which is the most decentralized, pushing participation down to the lowest or most basic levels.

But beyond these new power systems, the authors believe that “a new set of values and beliefs is being forged. Power is not just flowing differently; people are feeling and thinking differently about it.” The authors call them “feedback loops” which “make visible the payoffs of peer-based collective action and endow people with a sense of power. In doing so, they strengthen norms around collaboration”.

The authors lay out five new values. They include the area of governance where the authors note, “new power favors informal, networked approaches to governance and decision making.” Next is in the area of collaboration where the authors believe that this new power value rewards “those who share their own ideas, spread those of others, or build on existing ideas to make them even better.” The next new value is DIO or do it ourselves. Under this value, there is a “belief in amateur culture in arenas that used to be characterized by specialization and professionalization.” Next is transparency which, while not a new concept, says that more permanent transparency between business and social lives will lead to a “response in kind from our institutions and leaders who are challenged to rethink the way they engage with their constituencies” specifically including their employee base. The final new value identified by the authors is affiliation, which means that new and younger employees are less like to “forge decades-long relationships with institutions.”

The authors have three prescriptions that I found could be useful for the CCO or compliance practitioner to incorporate into a mature and evolving compliance program moving forward. Compliance functions need to “engage in three essential tasks: (1) assess their place in a shifting power environment, (2) channel their harshest critic, and (3) develop a mobilization capacity.

Assess where you are

This prong is quite close to something compliance practitioners are comfortable with in their role, a risk assessment. However the authors suggest that the assessment be turned inward so you should assess the compliance function on this “new power compass—both where you are today and where you want to be in five years.” You can benchmark from other companies in responding to this query. Internally, you can begin this process with a conversation about new realities and how the compliance function should perform. More importantly such an assessment can help you identify the aspects of their core models and values that should not be changed.

Incorporate business unit interests

The authors note, “Today, the wisest organizations will be those engaging in the most painfully honest conversations, inside and outside, about their impact.” However, I think this question should be asked first by the CCO or compliance practitioner. For it is not only what you are doing to work with your business units but more importantly what are you doing to incorporate their concerns and suggestions into your compliance regime. If you are going to ask the business unit to be a significant partner or better yet be your business partner, you will need to have a mechanism in place to engage your business unit so there can be an inflow of input before the compliance function has an output of requirements. As the authors write, “This level of introspection has to precede any investment in any new power mechanisms” to which I would add any successful compliance function.

Mobilize your capacity

Here I suggest you consider contracted third parties and other third parties such as joint venture (JV) partners as an avenue through which the compliance function can bring greater benefits to an organization. I have often heard compliance expert Mary Jones talk about her training of her company’s third parties and how thankful they were that when she, Global Industries Director of Compliance, would personally travel to their locations and put on in-person training. Her efforts to travel to their locations, spend the money required to do so not only directly strengthened Global Industries’ compliance function but created allies for her efforts by giving these suppliers the information and training they needed to comply with their customers requirements. By reaching out in this manner, Global Industries used its contracted third party suppliers to create a stronger company compliance program.

As the anti-corruption compliance profession matures, it will become more a component of a company’s business function. This means less of a lawyer’s top down mentality of do it because I said to do it, to more collaboration. It also means, as with the premier of Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet that something new is on the horizon and it could be here for quite sometime to come.

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

 

November 21, 2014

The Strategic Use of Compliance

StrategyWhat is your company’s compliance strategy? By this I do not mean what is your company doing to put in a place a best practices anti-corruption compliance program that meets the requirement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act. My inquiry goes both further and deeper. Has your company moved beyond the view that compliance with the FCPA is simply enough by incorporating compliance into your business strategy to secure a competitive advantage going forward? I thought about this issue when I read a recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, entitled “Finding the Right Corporate Legal Strategy”, by Robert C. Bird and David Orozco. While the authors posed the questions from the legal perspective, I found their insights equally valid from the compliance perspective.

While I am fairly certain that Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs) and compliance practitioners understand the need for the integration of compliance into the day-to-day business operations of a company, many business types still view compliance “as a constraint on managerial decisions, primarily perceiving” compliance as simply a cost. The authors believe that the more enlightened approach is for companies to use functions such as compliance “in order to secure long-term competitive advantage.” To do so the authors detailed five different legal strategies, which they call pathways, that companies might use that I will translate into compliance strategies. They are in ascending order of importance: (1) avoidance; (2) compliance; (3) prevention; (4) value and (5) transformation. The right strategy for your company will depend on a variety of factors such as maturity of your compliance function, commitment by senior management to compliance, your business model and the compliance function’s ability to collaborate with business managers.

Avoidance

This is the idiot response where a company either disregards anti-corruption laws such as the FCPA or UK Bribery Act or engages in willful blindness. Unfortunately, there are many major US and foreign corporations that have come to grief under the FCPA because they did not take some of the most basic steps to comply with these laws. It is largely because senior management believes that compliance provides “little concrete value, so they make no effort to” even acquiring knowledge in the area. Worse yet are companies who gain a modicum of knowledge about such anti-corruption laws “only so that they can circumvent it to achieve a desired objective.” The authors note that while “An avoidance strategy can sometimes be effective…it can also lead to disaster.” This lead to the compliance function and the CCO only being called in an emergency, after the conduct has occurred so that compliance is always in a reactionary mode.

Compliance

This pathway means complying with laws, not the compliance function itself. Under this pathway, “companies recognize that the law is an unwelcome but mandatory constraint on their activities.” So while following this strategy would allow a company to have subject matter expert (SME) practitioners in the field of compliance, it would exist only “so the business could operate within its legal bounds.” Under this pathway, companies still view compliance as a cost to be minimized. Moreover, anti-corruption laws such as the FCPA or UK Bribery Act are “viewed as primarily inflexible—externally imposed rules that cannot be changed or adapted to suit a particular corporate strategy.” This means that business managers will simply not understand that compliance can be used to further business goals. It also leads most business unit folks to believe that compliance is the Land of No and the CCO is in reality ‘Dr. No’ who is there “primarily as a watchdog that polices corporate conduct for illegal activity.”

Prevention 

Under the prevention pathway, senior management acknowledges that anti-corruption laws can be used as competitive advantage “to further well-defined business roles.” This means that the compliance is proactive rather than reactive. Senior managers understand how the law relates to their business areas “and they appreciate how it can be used to minimize particular business risks.” The compliance function “seeks partnerships with managers to help them achieve their risk-management goals.” This pathway has the added benefit that allows compliance practitioners to recognize the importance of measuring and quantifying compliance issues and data “as a part of a broader effort to support a business oriented strategy.” It also means that the compliance function is available to the business unit when the competitive landscape is “strategically assessed” by the business unit. This is more than simply having a seat at the table; it is being a part of and contributing to the commercial strategy.

Value

Companies operating in this pathway use compliance to “create tangible and identifiable value.” But to do so requires a true corporate commitment because business unit managers will need to have a strong understanding of anti-corruption compliance and how it can be tailored to generate value for the company. The CCO, and indeed the entire compliance function, must see itself “as a key stakeholder in helping the company to increase its return on investment” and should see itself in helping to create value for the company. Usually this comes about in two ways. The first is by using compliance to lower costs of doing business, particularly through third parties. Here you can think of reducing the number of vendors who perform the same services or provide the same products to you by appropriate management of your third party compliance program. The second way is by using compliance to increase revenues.

Transformation

In this final pathway, a company will incorporate compliance directly into its business model. While the authors note that few companies have been able to move this far in the legal arena, those who have done so possess a rare and valuable “capability that can provide a competitive advantage that is difficult for a business rival to imitate.” One of the keys to making this transformation is that not only is compliance integrated within “the company’s various value-chain activities; it is also linked with the value chains of important external partners as part of the larger business ecosystem.” This pathway is only available to companies with the most mature compliance function and most usually when compliance is combined with “the business model and core competencies of the company.”

Clearly there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to compliance strategies. However if your compliance program has maturity and senior management can operate with their eyes open, they will see that while the first three strategies focus on managing risk, the final two are targeted towards generating business opportunities or least have compliance as a part of the team doing so. As compliance practitioners move into the CCO 2.0 role that I have advocated, these pathways can provide you with a tangible starting point to educate senior management on what compliance can bring to the (business) table.

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

November 20, 2014

Compliance Lessons From Mom

John HansonEd. Note-the below post was on the site, thefraudguy.com, which is hosted by John Hanson. I found it so moving I asked John if I could repost on my site, which he graciously allowed me to do. 

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If you were wondering whether or not I had dropped off the face of the earth for the last six weeks, you guessed right.  October of 2014 was a month that, along with September 2001, I would love to utterly erase from my memory.

My mother, who had been so courageously battling cancer for the last five years, lost the battle on October 17, 2014.  Despite a contractor catching my house on fire and a kidney stone suddenly showing up, I was able to get to Bristol, VA and be with my mom before her passing.  I remained in Bristol to support my dad and help with all of the funeral arrangements.  After the funeral, I packed their house up and moved dad up to Fredericksburg, VA with my family.

As I reflected on my mom’s life and lessons, there were a few in particular that I find relevant to the work I do today, particularly in the area of compliance and ethics.  My mom was raised in a second generation Italian family in extreme poverty in New Orleans.  I recall hearing stories of how she slept together with her sister and brother in a small room where they had to take turns staying awake to keep the rats off of them.

Despite the obstacles, mom appreciated the value of hard & honest work, education, and selfless service.  Working various jobs, she put herself through nursing school and began what became a forty-one year long career as a nurse.   Mom’s nursing accomplishments were of no comparison with Nobel Prize winners and will never be remembered outside of the small circles of those whom they affected, but they are nonetheless as profound and meaningful, both to those affected and to those who might see in her life and work the impact and role of a positive high ethical tone and commitment to always doing what was right and in the best interests of her “customers” – her patients.

My mom always stressed the importance of honesty and showed me the benefits of it every time I owned up to something I did wrong as a child.  As long as I was honest about my mistakes, the punishment was appropriately reduced.  Thank God – or I would still be in “time-out” some forty years later!   That is a lesson I have carried all my life and am trying hard to pass on to my children, as well as those with whom I work.

Positive ethical tone within an organization begins with honesty.  And ends with dishonesty.

An effective compliance & ethics program will include on-going education and training.  While my mom worked hard to put herself through school to become a nurse, she never stopped her education there.  Over the course of her career as a nurse, she took on many new challenges/specialties, some of which she did pioneering work in.  The lesson is that education never stops.  We never stop learning and we always have room to learn more, regardless of where we are now in our lives and careers.  Compliance training IS on-going education.  It is not checking a box.

Being a nurse is among the most altruistic jobs one might have.  Caring for those who, in many instances, can’t care for themselves.  Helping them with the most humbling and/or simple tasks – many tasks that even family might shy away from.  Not losing sight of their human dignity and treating them with respect, even as they lost respect for themselves.  My mom was always a champion of the patients, even when being so was not always in the financial best interests of the hospital or kindly looked upon by her superiors.  As best as I know, mom never had to deal with any “corporate” fraud issues as a nurse/employee, but she certainly had her share of ethical issues.  Sometimes described as a “firecracker” when it came to advocating for her patients, I am sure mom upset her share of hospital superiors of lesser ethical constitution over the years.

It’s a great lesson for us.  By placing greater value on what we do and doing things right (rather than on where our stock price is), we find a more fulfilling and long-lasting success.  When someone acts unethically or engages in some sort of misconduct, we have to speak up – until somebody listens.

I recall with both joy and sadness a little boy named Stephen, who was a cancer patient under my mom’s care in a pediatric intensive care unit.  I was living far away at the time, working as an FBI Agent.  In caring for Stephen, my mom had learned that he had dreamed of one day becoming an FBI Agent and so she asked that I might visit him when I next came to town – in fact, she made certain to remind me of it MANY times as I planned my next visit!

When I got to town, my mom made sure that the hospital was my very first stop.  She also insisted that I wear a suit – my official FBI Agent “uniform.”   After Stephen’s chemo treatment(s) that day, she rolled him in a wheelchair to a private little waiting area where she had asked me to wait.  Stephen was probably about ten years old and his cancer was terminal – in its latest stage.   It was obvious that this child had suffered much and long, and was still in pain.  He didn’t have a single hair on his head and maybe weighed forty pounds in all his clothes.  Yet when my mom introduced me as her FBI Agent son, he lit up like a Christmas tree.  My mom and Stephen’s mom left briefly, so that we could have our “top secret debriefing.”  I let him hold by badge and credentials, let him see my handcuffs and the gun holstered on my hip, and answered every question he could muster the strength to ask – and many that I knew he would ask if he could.

When our time was over, I gave Stephen an official FBI t-shirt, a junior FBI Agent badge, some FBI pens, and other little things that I can’t even remember – though they meant the world to him.  I learned a couple months later that Stephen had passed and that he had specifically requested that he be buried in that FBI t-shirt that I gave him.  To this day I can’t think about that without tearing up.

This is just one example of how my mom took the time to listen to her “customers” and to appropriately do more for them than what just her job required.   She got no honors, medals, promotions, mentions or bonuses for this – and that was fine by her.  The joy brought to Stephen was priceless.

I’ll miss you mom.  Thanks for all you did for me and for everyone you touched.  I hope I can pass on the lessons I learned from you to my children as well as you passed them on to me.  I also hope that I might follow your example(s) with the same humble obscurity as you sought and that I might touch just one tenth of the number of lives that you did.

Tell Stephen hello for me.

October 22, 2014

Right to Retire Or Termination: Remediation of Leadership To Foster Compliance

Fall of RomeMany historians have long given 476 AD as the date of the fall of the Roman Empire. Further, it was from this date forward that Europe began its long slide into the abyss, which came to be known as the Dark Age. However, this view was challenged in 1971 by Peter Brown, with the publication of his seminal work “The World of Late Antiquity”. One of the precepts of Brown’s work was to reinterpret the 3rd to 8th centuries not as simply a decline of the greatness that had been achieved in the heydays of the Roman Empire, but more on their own terms. It was in the year of 476 AD that the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, left the capital of Rome in disgrace. However as Brown noted, he was not murdered or even thrown out but allowed to retire to his country estates, sent there by the conquers of the western half of the Roman Empire, the Goths. Not much conquering going on if a ruler is allowed to ‘retire’, it was certainly a replacement but not quite the picture of marauding barbarians at the gate.

I thought about this anomaly of retirement by a leader in the context where a company or other entity might be going through investigations for corruption and non-compliance with such laws as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act. Yesterday I wrote about three recent articles and what they showed about a company’s oversight of its foreign subsidiaries. Today I want to use these same articles to explore what a company’s response and even responsibility should be to remediate leadership under which the corruption occurs. The first was an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled, “Another Scandal Hits Citigroup’s Moneymaking Mexican Division” by Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg. Their article spoke about the continuing travails of Citigroup’s Mexican subsidiary Banamex. Back in February, the company reported “a $400 million fraud involving the politically connected, but financially troubled, oil services firm Oceanografía.”

This has led Citigroup to ever so delicately try to oust the leader of its Mexico operations, Mr. Medina-Mora, by encouraging him to retire. While Citigroup did terminate 12 individuals around the Oceanografía scandal earlier in the year, it has not changed the employment status of the head of the Mexico business unit. This may be changing as the article said, “In a delicate dance, Citigroup is encouraging its Mexico chairman, Manuel Medina-Mora, 64, to retire, according to four people briefed on the matter. The bank has been quietly laying the groundwork for his departure, which could come by early next year, the people said. Still, Mr. Medina-Mora’s business acumen and connections to the country’s ruling elite have made him critical to the bank’s success in Mexico. Citigroup and its chairman, Michael E. O’Neill, cannot afford to alienate Mr. Medina-Mora and risk jeopardizing those relationships, these people said.”

Should Mr. Medina-Mora be allowed to retire? Should he even be required to retire? What about the ‘mints money’ aspect of the Mexican operations for Citigroup? Was any of that money minted through violations of the FCPA or other laws? What will the Department of Justice (DOJ) think of Citigroup’s response or perhaps even its attitude towards this very profitable business unit and Citigroup’s oversight, lax or other?

Does a company have to terminate employees who engage in corruption? Or can it allow senior executives to gracefully retire into the night with full pension and other golden parachute benefits intact? What if a company official “purposely manipulated appointment data, covered up problems, retaliated against whistle-blowers or who was involved in malfeasance that harmed veterans must be fired, rather than allowed to slip out the back door with a pension.” Or engaged in the following conduct, “had steered business toward her lover and to a favored contractor, then tried to “assassinate” the character of a colleague who attempted to stop the practice.” Finally, what if yet another company official directed company employees to “delete hundreds of appointments from records” during the pendency of an investigation?

All of the above quotes came from a second NYT article about a very different subject. In the piece, entitled “After Hospital Scandal, V.A. Official Jump Ship”, Dave Phillips reported that two of the four VA Administration executives who engaged in the above conduct and were selected for termination, had resigned before they could be formally terminated. The article reported that the VA “had no legal authority to stop” the employees from resigning. Current VA Secretary Robert McDonald was quoted in the article as saying, “It’s also very common in the private sector. When I was head of Procter & Gamble, it happened all the time, and it’s not a bad thing — it saves us time and rules out the possibility that these people could win an appeal and stick around.” Plus, he said, their records reflect that they were targeted for termination. “They can’t just go get a job at another agency,” Mr. McDonald said. “There will be nowhere to hide.”

The third article was in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and entitled, “GM Says Top Lawyer to Step Down”. In this piece, reporters John D. Stroll and Joseph B. White, with contributions from Chris Matthews and Joann Lublin, reported that General Motors (GM) General Counsel (GC) Michael Millikin will retire early next year. Milliken is famously the GC who claimed not to know what was going on in his own legal department around the group’s settlements of product liability claims of faulty ignition switches. Milliken claimed he was kept “in the dark” by his own lieutenants about the safety issues involved with this group of litigation. Does Milliken have any responsibility for the failures of GM around this safety issue? What does his apparent graceful retirement say about the corporate culture of GM and its desire to actually change anything in the light of its ongoing travails? Of course one might cynically point to GM’s failure to even have a Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer as evidence of the company’s attitude towards compliance and ethics. (I wonder how that might look to the DOJ/Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) if GM goes under any FCPA scrutiny?)

With Citigroup, the Department of Veterans Affairs and GM, we have three separate excuses for companies (and a Cabinet level department) not disciplining top employees for ethical and/or compliance failures. At Citigroup, the excuse is apparently that it does not want to rock the boat from a top producing foreign subsidiary by terminating the head of the subsidiary under investigation. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, the excuse seems to be they can go ahead and resign because we prefer to get rid of them that way. At GM, it is not clear why the GC who claimed not to know what was going on in even his own law department can ride off into the sunset with nary a contrary word in sight. Millikin’s conduct would seem to be the product of a larger cultural issue at GM.

I thought about how the DOJ might look at these situations for companies if a FCPA claim were involved. Even with McDonald’s observations about what happened when he was with Procter & Gamble; does a company show something less than commitment to having a culture of compliance if it allows an employee to retire? What does it say about Citigroup and its culture given the current dance it is having with its head of the Mexico unit? What about GM and its Sgt. Schultz of a GC and his ‘I was in the dark posture’? As stated by Mike Volkov, in his post entitled “Goodbye Mr. Millikin: GM’s Continuing Culture Challenges”, GM does under appear to understand the situation it finds itself in currently over its failures. He wrote, “GM still does not understand the significance of its governance failure…GM should have taken dramatic and affirmative steps to create a new culture – resources and new initiatives should be launched to rid GM of its current culture and replace it with a new speak up culture. It is a daunting task in such a large company but it has to be done. Until GM wakes up, missteps and failures will continue.” One might say the same for Citigroup and the Department of Veterans Affairs as well.

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

October 21, 2014

Carlton Fisk, The Homer and Oversight of a Profitable Subsidiary

Fisk HomerToday we celebrate one of the great moments in World Series history. At approximately at 12:34 AM on this date in 1975, Carlton Fisk came to bat at the bottom of the 12th, in Game 6 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. He hit a pitch down the left field line. He stood at the plate, bouncing up and down and flailing at the ball as though he was helping an airplane land on a dark runway. “I was just wishing and hoping,” he said at a ceremony some years later. “Maybe, by doing it, you know, you ask something of somebody with a higher power. I like to think that if I didn’t wave, it would have gone foul.” Whether or not the waving was responsible, the ball bounced off of the bright-yellow foul pole above the Green Monster for a home run. Fenway’s organist played the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah while Fisk rounded the bases. One for the ages indeed as it appeared the Baseball Gods might finally be smiling on the Red Sox nation. Alas, they lost the next game and it was not to be for another 30 years.

I thought about Fisk’s homer and the ultimate heartbreak of Red Sox nation once again in 1975 when I read about several recent issues involving corruption and corporate responsibility for oversight, or perhaps more appropriately, the lack thereof. The first was an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “Another Scandal Hits Citigroup’s Moneymaking Mexican Division”, by Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg. Their article spoke about the continuing travails of Citigroup’s Mexican subsidiary Banamex. Back in February, the company revealed “a $400 million fraud involving the politically connected, but financially troubled, oil services firm Oceanografía.”

However, company investigators have unearthed another problem at the Mexico unit. The article reported “An internal investigation, begun by Citigroup in July, found evidence that the security unit was overcharging vendors and may have been taking kickbacks, a person briefed on the investigation said. The internal inquiry also found shell companies that had been set up to look like vendors and receive payments from the Banamex unit.” In a statement reported in the piece, Citigroup’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael L. Corbat “called the conduct of the individuals in the security unit ‘appalling’”.

What I found most interesting in the article was the response of Citigroup and what its implications might mean for the compliance practitioner, particularly one whose company is under scrutiny for a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The NYT piece made clear that the Mexico unit is so profitable that it figuratively “mints money” for the company. Moreover, “despite the latest headline-grabbing turmoil at Banamex, Citigroup does not want to cede any ground in Mexico where it dominates a large portion of the retail market.”

What is the responsibility for a US corporate parent when a foreign subsidiary ‘mints money’ for the company? Should the corporate parent pay closer attention to make sure the subsidiary is doing business in compliance with the FCPA and other relevant laws? In the past few posts, I have discussed some of the specific internal controls a compliance practitioner might consider for a company’s international operations. One of the problems Citigroup is facing with the conduct of its Mexico subsidiary is the company’s concern of “lax controls and oversight”. Moreover, there is concern that some part of the ongoing troubles in the Mexico unit relates to its head, Manuel Medina-Mora. Citigroup Chairman Michael O’Neill, was said to have “privately expressed concerns to board members that Mr. Medina-Mora, who is also co-president of the parent company, has not always relayed problems in the region to executives at the bank’s headquarters on Park Avenue, according to the people briefed on the matter. Instead of looping in executives in New York, Mr. Medina-Mora has at times chosen to handle the issues himself.”

How much oversight should a parent corporation have over a subsidiary? At a basic level it would seem that oversight should be enough to prevent and detect illegal conduct. Clearly, a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) should be considering the entity-wide internal controls for a company. Under the FCPA accounting provisions, issuers can be held liable for the conduct of their foreign subsidiaries, even though the improper conduct occurred outside of the US. The scope of liability is based on the issuer’s incorporation of the subsidiary’s financial statements in its own records and SEC filings.

While a CCO should expect (and the DOJ & SEC for that matter) that internal controls at locations outside the US are of the same effectiveness as internal controls in US business units and at the US corporate office; unfortunately, that might not always be the case. It is often the case that corporate level internal controls are stronger than those in foreign business units. The Citigroup situation with its Mexican subsidiary would seem to be a clear example of the oft-cited reason that many companies were built through acquisitions, resulting in many business units (both in and outside the US) having completely different accounting and internal control systems than US corporate office. There is often a tendency to leave acquired companies in the state in which they were acquired, rather than trying to integrate their controls and conform them to those of current business units. After all, the reason for the acquisition was the profitability of the acquired company and nobody wants to be accused of negatively impacting profitability, especially one that ‘mints money’.

The second example is one a bit closer to home and it is that of the General Motors (GM) legal department. In an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) entitled “GM Says Top Lawyer to Step Down”, John D. Stroll and Joseph B. White, with contributions from Christopher Matthews and Joann S. Lublin, reported that GM General Counsel (GC) Michael Millikin will retire early next year. Millikin was criticized after the GM internal investigation found that he ran the GM legal department in such a hands off manner that he did not know about his legal department’s own settlements for product liability claims involving faulty ignition switches until February of this year. His defense was that his own lawyers “left him in the dark” even though there was evidence that he had been repeatedly warned, “GM could face punitive damage awards related to its failure to address the safety defect.” Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill summed up sentiment about Milliken with her statement “This is either gross negligence or gross incompetence.” In other words if you are a GC or CCO you had better know what is going on in your own department. What would it say about a CCO who did not know that compliance department members were dealing with violations of the FCPA without informing him or her? It would say that the CCO failed to exercise leadership and oversight.

And while you are watching things closely, you may want to check out a clip of Carlton Fisk’s famous homer by clicking 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

September 26, 2014

West Side Story and GSK In China – Board Oversight and Tone in the Middle

West Side Story IIYesterday, I celebrated the anniversary of one of America’s cultural lows. But today, I am extremely pleased to open with exactly the opposite, that being one of America’s greatest gifts to the performing arts. For on this day in 1957, the musical West Side Story premiered on Broadway. There are so many facets to one of the great, even greatest, works of musical theater. Leonard Bernstein penned the score, Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics, Jerome Robbins choreographed the dance and the story was by Arthur Laurents, inspired by Romeo and Juliet.

There are many great songs, dances and moments in the play. Most of us (at least of my age) outside New York were introduced to the play via television where it ran for one showing in 1971. The show never toured until the 2000s. When I finally got to see the stage production I was absolutely blown away. I had never seen anything like and it and I will never forget the 5-counter point singing by Tony, Maria, Anita, Bernardo and the Sharks, and Riff and the Jets, as they all anticipate the events to come that night in the song Tonight’s Quintet. The show truly is one of America’s gems.

I thought about the continuing appeal of West Side Story as a musical and why the story continues to resonate with the American people when I continued to consider some of the lessons learned from the GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) matter in China. Today’s areas for reflection should be the role of a company’s Board of Directors and the second is the ‘tone in the middle’. While we have not heard from the GSK Board on this case, it has become clear that the GSK Board was aware of both the anonymous whistleblower allegations and the release of the tape of the GSK China Country Manager and his girlfriend. One of the lessons learned from the GSK scandal is that a Board must absolutely take a more active oversight role not only when specific allegations of bribery and corruption are brought forward but also when companies are operating in high risk environments. Further how can a company move its message of doing business ethically and in compliance down the employee chain.

In a NACD Directorship article, entitled “Corruption in China and Elsewhere Demands Board Oversight”, authors Eric Zwisler and Dean Yoost noted that as “Boards are ultimately responsible for risk oversight” any Board of a company with operations in China “needs to have a clear understanding of its duties and responsibilities under the FCPA and other international laws, such as the U.K. Bribery Act”. Why should China be on the radar of Boards? The authors reported, “20 percent of FCPA enforcement actions in the past five years have involved business conduct in China. The reputational and economic ramifications of misinterpreting these duties and responsibilities can have a long-lasting impact on the economic and reputation of the company.”

The authors understand that corruption can be endemic in China. They wrote, “Local organizations in China are exceedingly adept at appearing compliant while hiding unacceptable business practices. The board should be aware that a well-crafted compliance program must be complemented with a thorough understanding of frontline business practices and constant auditing of actual practices, not just documentation.” Further, “the management cadence of monitoring and auditing should be visible to the board.” All of the foregoing would certainly apply to GSK and its China operations.

Moreover, the FCPA Guidance makes clear that resources and their allocation are an important part of any best practices compliance program. So if that risk is perceived to be high in a country such as China, the Board should follow the prescription in the Guidance, which states “the amount of resources devoted to compliance will depend on the company’s size, complexity, industry, geographical reach, and risks associated with the business. In assessing whether a company has reasonable internal controls, DOJ and SEC typically consider whether the company devoted adequate staffing and resources to the compliance program given the size, structure, and risk profile of the business.”

To help achieve these goals, the authors suggested a list of questions that they believe every director should ask about a company’s business in China.

  • How is “tone at the top” established and communicated?
  • How are business practice risks assessed?
  • Are effective standards, policies and procedures in place to address these risks?
  • What procedures are in place to identify and mitigate fraud, theft, and corruption?
  • What local training is conducted on business practices and is it effective?
  • Are incentives provided to promote the correct behaviors?
  • How is the detection of improper behavior monitored and audited?
  • How is the effectiveness of the compliance program reviewed and initiated?
  • If a problem is identified, how is an independent and thorough investigation assured?

Third parties generally present the most risk under a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program and are believed (at least anecdotally) to comprise over 90 percent of reported FCPA cases, which subsequently involve the use of third-party intermediaries such as agents or consultants. But this is broader than simply third party agents because any business opportunity in China will require some type of business relationship.

One of the major failings of the GSK Board was that it apparently did not understand the actual business practices that the company was engaging in through its China business unit. While $500MM may not have been a material monetary figure for the Board to consider; the payment of such an amount to any third party or group of third parties, such as Chinese travel agencies, should have been raised to the Board. All of this leads me to believe that the GSK Board was not sufficiently engaged. While one might think a company which had received a $3bn fine and was under a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) for its marketing sins might have sufficient Board attention; perhaps legal marketing had greater Board scrutiny than doing business in compliance with the FCPA or UK Bribery Act. The Board certainly did not seem to understand the potential financial and reputational impact of a bribery and corruption matter arising in China. Perhaps they do now but, for the rest of us, I think the clear lesson to be learned is that a Board must increase oversight of its China operations from the anti-corruption perspective.

GSK Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sir Andrew Witty has certainly tried to say all of the right things during the GSK imbroglio on China. But did that message really get down into to the troops at GSK China? Moreover, did that message even get to middle management, such as the GSK leadership in China? Apparently not so, one of the lessons learned is moving the Olympian Pronouncements of Sir Andrew down to lower levels on his company. Just how important is “Tone at the Top”? Conversely, what does it say to middle management when upper management practices the age-old parental line of “Don’t do as I do; Do as I say”? In his article entitled, “Ethics and the Middle Manager: Creating “Tone in The Middle” Kirk O. Hanson, listed eight specific actions that top executives could engage in which demonstrate a company’s and their personnel’s commitment to ethics and compliance. The actions he listed were:

  1. Top executives must themselves exhibit all the “tone at the top” behaviors, including acting ethically, talking frequently about the organization’s values and ethics, and supporting the organization’s and individual employee’s adherence to the values.
  2. Top executives must explicitly ask middle managers what dilemmas arise in implementing the ethical commitments of the organization in the work of that group.
  3. Top executives must give general guidance about how values apply to those specific dilemmas.
  4. Top executives must explicitly delegate resolution of those dilemmas to the middle managers.
  5. Top executives must make it clear to middle managers that their ethical performance is being watched as closely as their financial performance.
  6. Top executives must make ethical competence and commitment of middle managers a part of their performance evaluation.
  7. The organization must provide opportunities for middle managers to work with peers on resolving the hard cases.
  8. Top executives must be available to the middle managers to discuss/coach/resolve the hardest cases.

What about at the bottom, as in remember those China unit employees who claimed they were owed bonuses because their bosses had instructed them to pay bribes? Well if your management instructs you to pay bribes that is a very different problem. But if your company’s issue is how to move the message of compliance down to the bottom, Dawn Lomer, Managing Editor at i-Sight Software, provided some concrete suggestions in an article in the SCCE magazine, entitled “An ethical corporate culture goes beyond the code”, where she wrote that that the unofficial message which a company sends to its employees “is just as powerful – if not more powerful – than any messages carried in the code of conduct.” Lomer suggested that a company use “unofficial channels” by which your company can convey and communicate its message regarding doing business in an ethical manner and “influence employee behavior across the board.” Her suggestions were:

  1. Reward for Integrity – Lomer writes that the key is to reward employees for doing business in an ethical manner and that such an action “sends a powerful message without saying a word.”
  2. The three-second ethics rule – It is important that senior management not only consistently drives home the message of doing business ethically but they should communicate that message in a short, clear values statement.
  3. Environmental cues – Simply the idea that a company is providing oversight on doing business ethically can be enough to modify employee behavior.
  4. Control the images – It is not all about winning but conducting business, as it should be done.
  5. Align Messages – you should think about the totality of the messages that your company is sending out to its employees regarding doing business and make sure that all these messages are aligned in a way that makes clear your ethical corporate culture clear. 

The GSK case will be in the public eye for many months to come. Both the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and US authorities have open investigations into the company. Just as the five counter-point singing or the rooftop symphonic dance scene to the song America demonstrates the best of that art form; you can draw lessons from GSK’s miss-steps in China now for implementing or enhancing your anti-corruption compliance program going forward now.

And while you are ending your week of considering GSK and its lessons learned for your compliance program, crank up your speakers to 11 and listen to some five counter-point singing the movie version of the Tonight Quintet, by clicking 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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