GHBER and Local Ethics and Compliance Organizations

Thomas Fox
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GHBERLogoDoes your locality have an ethics and compliance group that provides a level playing field for companies and organizations to discuss problems and share best practices? If you do not, it may be something that you wish to consider. Here in Houston, through foresight and perseverance, we have such an organization. It is known locally as GHBER, which stands for the Greater Houston Business and Ethics Roundtable. It is a voluntary professional organization dedicated to promoting ethical business practices and serving as a forum for the exchange of information and strategies regarding implementation, administration and compliance of ethical business conduct programs. GHBER was founded in 1996 at the University of Houston’s C. T. Bauer College of Business, with the leadership of Dr. Bette Ann Stead and was designed to provide a level playing field for companies and organizations around ethics and compliance, to discuss problems and share best practices in the profession.

GHBER is unique as it is the premier ethics and compliance organization in Houston. It facilitates a wide range of compliance practitioners, from health care to energy to tech and beyond. GHBER is made up of lawyers, compliance practitioners, auditors, CPA-types and all other manner of professionals who work in our profession. Some of the different types of activities that the group involves itself in are the following:

  • Roundtable Discussions among members of sponsoring organizations to facilitate discussions by any member of the community who has an interest in maintaining ethical business structures.
  • Service to its members and to the community in the Greater Houston area.
  • Recognition of organizations, of any size, who are making a demonstrable effort to promote ethical business practices.
  • Education of the public and for individuals and officers responsible for administering their organization’s ethics and compliance programs and to promote the study of business ethics in colleges and universities.
  • Chapter Formation for an ethical support network and implementation of programs at the local level.
  • Commitment to uphold and promote ethical business structures and values. Memberships within this organization will be open to organizations and individuals who have made a demonstrable effort to implement business ethics practices, and/or who have a strong desire to implement a business ethics policy.

Of all the goals and achievements of GHBER the one that I find to be the most significant, as the son of a college professor, is its educational goal. In 2005 GHBER initiated a scholarship program to recognize students in area MBA programs who, in the opinion of each student’s school, demonstrate ethical leadership. The scholarship is the GHBER Bette Stead Scholarship in honor of Dr. Stead and the contribution she made in the formation and initial development of GHBER. By the 10th Anniversary, GHBER had provided $10,000 in scholarships. Scholarship winners attend GHBER meetings and this process is helping to develop a new generation of compliance practitioners who will grow up as compliance professionals and not simply lawyers moving over from the corporate legal department or other corporate function.

Right up there with its educational function GHBER puts on quarterly speaker programs for its members. These quarterly programs are open to the public and enable GHBER to promote ethical business practices and serve as a forum for the exchange of information and strategies for developing strong compliance programs.

GHBER has had some very interesting and excellent speakers over the years. Two of my favorites were Scott Lane, founder of the Red Flag Group, and Andrew Weissmann, who recently returned to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Weissmann talked about his days as the head of the Enron Task Force prosecuting miscreants to Houston’s greatest corporate scandal.

This year’s initial speaker demonstrated the breadth of the organization. In February the group hosted Chris Olsen, Vice President (VP) of Football Administration for the Texans, who talked about the compliance issues facing the business of football. In April, we are very pleased to host Kathleen Edmond, of Robins Kaplan LLP and former Chief Ethics Officer at Best Buy, who continues to lead and share best practices. She will discuss building successful collaboration between compliance, risk and Audit. In September, Mark Lowes, VP Litigation for KBR, who will discuss lessons learned regarding the Barko Qui Tam vs. Halliburton case. He will explore such questions as the issue of when are investigations considered privileged? In November the great Stephen Martin will discuss how to conduct an effective compliance risk assessment.

Each year in July GHBER holds a Members Only best practice all day session that provides the compliance practitioner, general counsel (GC), procurement and ethics and compliance professionals’ insight into a timely topic. This year the group will be treated to a discussion of the Layne Christensen Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation, which concluded with the company receiving a declination from the DOJ. The presentation will be led by Layne Christensen GC, Steven F. Crooke, and outside attorney Russ Berland, of Stinson Leonard Street, LLP. There will also be a presentation by Christopher Sindik and Robert Leffel, from The Red Flag Group, who will guide you on the best practices required when publishing a Supplier Code of Conduct.     

Yet what is the very best thing about all of the above? It may well be the cost, which is only $100 for an individual membership. Even a corporate membership is still a very reasonable $500. While the SCCE is the leading organization for the compliance practitioner on a national or international basis, there is room in every city for a local ethics and compliance organization. It can be an excellent resource for compliance practitioners in a wide variety of industries. If you are in Houston I would urge you to check out the next GHBER meeting in April. Kathleen Edmond is one of the most respected compliance practitioners around and it would give you the opportunity to meet many of the local top ethics and compliance folks. If you do not have the good fortune to live in Houston or another city that has such an organization, I would urge you to consider founding such an organization.

For more information on GHBER you can visit its website by clicking here. If you want to correspond with the Group’s President (and one of my favorite people) contact Amy Lilly at amy.lilly@CenterpointEnergy.com.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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