Last week I interviewed Brian Ching, the General Manager (GM) of the Houston Dash, which is our local entry into the US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Ching is the recently retired star of the Houston Dynamos, our Major League Soccer (MLS) team. Ching had a star-studded career here in Houston, playing in MLS Championships, making numerous all-star teams and was on the American team in the 2006 World Cup. I had planned to record the interview and post it on my podcast, the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report; however, due to the technical incompetency of my Recording and Sound Engineer (me) I did not hit the record button so it was not recorded.
But I did take notes, which was fortunate because the interview, which was intended to focus on the issue of leadership, went in a direction that I had not anticipated. I wanted to visit with Ching about his transition from being a player into management and his resulting leadership style. In preparation for the interview I sent him a list of questions to garner more detail on his playing career; who may have influenced him and how the former helped him to inform the leadership style that he might now be using in his position as Dash GM. But as I said, it went in a very different direction midway through the interview.
Ching was recognized as the “Face of the Franchise” and the state-of-the-art soccer stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium where the Dynamos play, is generally recognized as ‘The House that Ching Built’ for all his efforts to bring a fan base and support to Houston. But what I did not realize was that Ching was only one part of the effort that Dynamos management made to reach out to the Houston community to develop a strong and devoted fan base. The Dynamos not only sent its players out into the community to meet fans but also encouraged its players to adopt local charities and become involved to create greater community involvement and raise awareness. The Dynamos left it up to the individual player as to which charity they might want to be involved with. Some of the examples Ching cited were Dynamos’ players involvement with charities as diverse as honoring of veterans and their families, the Houston Zoo, Habitat for Humanity, the SPCA, Toys for Tots and other charitable programs.
I asked Ching if this was a program that had been brought over for the women’s team as well. He answered absolutely. I then asked him how the team could work to draft or sign players or prospects who are willing to engage in that type of community development. He said that in addition to the metrics and traditional scouting it involved having a frank discussion with any prospective signing about what would be expected of her as a Dash member. If getting out, meeting and interacting with the fans was not something that the prospective player was interested in doing that was taken into account in the evaluation process. This last point is assessed during face-to-face interviews with any prospect.
I thought these points raised by Ching were very interesting in the context of a compliance function and what might be needed for a compliance practitioner. The first is the concept of getting out to not only meet your constituency but also develop relationships with them. When the Dynamos moved to Houston there was very little tradition of professional soccer in this city. Yet there was a large segment of the population who were a natural interest group, having played the game growing up. So there was a built-in market ready to be tapped. But the Dynamos took it a step further by going into those areas and developing relationships with the fans and maintaining those relationships with outreach efforts. While many professional sports teams have ‘meet the team’ days, signing day and the like; the Dynamos have events where players, like Brian Ching, would help build houses or perform services for their charities. This garnered not only quite a bit of publicity for the team but also generated much goodwill with the team’s fan base. Finally, it gave ordinary people the opportunity to meet and get to know many of the players. Even if this did not turn an adults head, you can imagine the magic it worked on kids. They all became Dynamo fans.
For the compliance practitioner, the Dynamo and Dash’s approach to developing a loyal fan base can also be a guide to developing such a relationship with your institutional client base. Ching’s goals were and are clearly more than to simply get out of the office and meet people. It is to get involved with the community. Traveling to regions outside the corporate home office is a great idea but try and come up with ways of informally interacting with people. You do not have to build houses like Ching did but you can go to lunch or have a cup of coffee while you are in town for meetings or putting on training. The Dynamos and Dash make themselves accessible and I think that it is important for the compliance practitioner too. It can do wonders to help create a better relationship but getting out of the office is only the first step. You have to engage with those folks as well.
The second thing I culled from Ching was the selection process for players. Something that may not seem important for professional athletes is the ability to get out and engage with the community, however this was viewed as not only an important part of the job description with the team but a key job skill which was required. For the Dynamos and Dash, this meant that there had to be some direct conversations about not only the team’s expectations but also the prospects ability to engage in those activities.
Ching’s discussion about how they communicate their expectations was also an important point that the compliance practitioner should also consider in the interview process and compliance. Just as the Dynamos and Dash use the interview process to convey expectations, they also use the interview to directly inquire from candidates whether they would be willing to go out into the public and represent the franchise. This is important when interviewing for compliance positions and for senior management positions in companies as well.
I am continually amazed to find the numerous examples available to the compliance practitioner from other areas and other disciplines that can not only help inform an individual’s approach to the practice of compliance; but also tips to help companies do the business of compliance better and more efficiently. For myself, it was a learning experience to plan to interview Brian Ching on one thing and have the interview go down a completely separate path. And, of course, the key lesson learned is if you plan to record an interview, make sure that the recorder is turned on.