I would like to think of myself as an advocate for the Chief Compliance Officer. It is easy to see why the CCO and the General Counsel should be separate individuals but close colleagues who depend on each other. Separation and dependence is a hard act to put together in one relationship but it can be done.
Just because a company has set up the right compliance structure – an independent and empowered CCO – does not guarantee success. Some CCOs come into a job and want to make a difference. Some do not want to change much but just try and survive. Some do not want to do anything at all. CCOs are like other professionals – some are talented, some get by and some do little, if anything.
A CCO has to recognize who they are and what they want to accomplish. It is easy to sit around and belly ache about lack of resources, lack of recognition, or to repeat list after list of all the difficulties they face. I admire those CCOs that have a vision – a goal which reflects lifting the bar up and achieving what they can, so long as they are realistic. I do not mean to suggest that they should adopt a low standard and pat themselves on the back each year for accomplishing minimal standards.
A CCO has an important function in every company – to educate decision makers on the bottom line contribution of compliance and ethics to the overall success of the company. The CCO has to convert many to follow the CCO vision – it can only be done if the CCO is a leader and a visionary.
When companies ask me for any suggestions in who might make a good CCO, I always respond with a simple statement – “You need a leader with vision and commitment.” It sounds trite but those of you familiar with compliance professionals know what I mean. CCOs always see a half-filled glass of water as half-full, not half-empty. CCOs always see the potential to be gained by improving existing compliance policies and controls.
The vision and commitment of the CCO starts with the CCO’s attitude. I can tell within minutes (sometimes seconds) of meeting a CCO whether the person is a can-do CCO or a CCO with limited vision and desire. Not everyone is perfect and I do not mean to single out CCOs, but not everyone in the profession is a rock star. (After all, as an attorney, I always have to acknowledge the seedy side of my own profession).
Companies that want an active and vibrant compliance program have to start with the most essential ingredient – a CCO with vision and commitment. It is easy to “succeed” if you set your goals low.
Thomas Jefferson said it best: “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”
For CCOs, the same rule applies – you can only achieve when you have the vision and commitment to do so.