The Red Baron And Leading In Compliance

by Thomas Fox

For anyone who grew up in the 60s or 70s; the comic strip adventures of Snoopy vs. the Red Baron were legendary. ‘Curse You Red Baron’ was a routine line from Snoopy as he was foiled time and time again by the Red Baron. Anyone who has seen “Charlie Brown and The Great Pumpkin” will remember the scene were Snoopy was shot down behind enemy lines, but survived his crash landing and escaping back to his own lines. Today is the 98th anniversary of the first time the real-life Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, shot down his first plane on the Western Front in World War I (WWI). One of the things that the Red Baron always did was lead from the front.

I thought about those fanciful flights of Snoopy vs. The Red Baron when I considered the compliance implications found in this past weekend’s Corner Office Section of the New York Times (NYT), where Adam Bryant interviewed Bob Moritz, chairman and senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC), in an article entitled “Want to Learn about Diversity? Become a Foreigner”. In this article Bryant detailed several leadership lessons that Moritz had experienced over the years which I thought had quite a bit of application to the compliance practitioner.

Lead from the Front

The first was that leaders are more respected if they lead from the front. Moritz talked about one of his initial role models who was in his first job in a clothing store. Moritz said, “He was in charge of the stockroom, and I admired him because he knew it all. He had a sense of what had to be done, and how you get it done. He had a great balance — he didn’t seem to go through tremendous highs or tremendous lows. He was dependable, and he was the go-to guy.” This means to me, you will have more appreciation for your role if you lead from the front. Moreover, if you demonstrate a commitment to the discipline, suit up, show up and understand the legal and process requirements of your profession, I think you will become model a role that others in the company respect.

Learning (and Living) Diversity

One of the seminal events in Moritz’s professional career came when he accepted a transfer to Japan. He did this even though it took him far out of his comfort zone. Moritz said that there were three key lessons he learned from his time in Japan. The first was diversity. He said, “I was the minority. I was the guy outside of the circle. I couldn’t speak the language. I was the guy who was discriminated against. So it gave me a different perspective of diversity, and it influenced the diversity agenda we have now.”

The second thing it taught Moritz was the “diversity of thought and cultural diversity.” The Japanese respect job titles and age to a greater degree than in the west. As it appears unseemly to directly challenge authority, Moritz had to learn how to ask challenging questions “to get the right answers without making people feel threatened.” This has led to a greater understanding of engaging in a global business practice in a way that makes employees feel appreciated and not threatened.

The final piece of this diversity puzzle was bonding. For Moritz the question was “how do you bond with people personally enough so that they trust you, but in a way that you can work with them professionally?” Moritz described a martial arts class where clearly he was used as the tackling dummy. But he took the punishment and garnered the respect of his peers for it. It was not simply that he took his beating like a man; it was more that he made himself vulnerable. Moritz said, “What was good, though, was that the people I was working with saw me taking a chance, and they opened themselves up a bit more, and that allowed for that trust to be built.”

For the compliance practitioner, I think that the first message is that you have to get out of the office. Nothing engenders respect more than face-to-face meetings. But, more importantly, you can obtain a greater understanding of what is going on in parts of the world other than the US. For example, China is currently on the forefront of everyone’s mind in the compliance world now. But Moritz’s comments about asking questions without challenging authority should make US and Western Europe compliance practitioners understand the pragmatic differences in the way that internal hotlines are viewed by different cultures.


Moritz said the biggest ‘leadership’ lesson he has been taught after taking up leadership roles in the firm is around the concept of consensus. He admitted that he is a self-styled ‘consensus-builder’. But that brings up a set of challenges; the primary one being how much consensus is enough? He phrased it as “how much time do you want to spend building consensus versus “let’s just move on”?”  The building of consensus led him to another leadership lesson, where he would use the building of consensus as a way to test his leadership team to see who would be willing to step up. He said that “I’m willing to let things go for a period and see how they play out.”

For the compliance practitioner I think this point ties all of Moritz’s concepts together fairly well. Or, to quote my colleague Michael Volkov, do not be Dr. No from the Land of No. Compliance works with the business units of a company to make sure there are not violations of anti-corruption and anti-bribery laws. That does not mean saying no all the time. It means determining the risk and then managing the level of risk. If you are going to now ask something along the lines of “What about doing a deal in ‘X’ high risk country, with a government official or known fraudster”, my response is simply how do you look in an orange jumpsuit? (See picture of Frederick Bourke). The point is that you can build consensus with the business team on how to do a deal, construct a transaction or join a business partner which meets the requirements of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act. But you have to work at it and have your network set up beforehand so that you can build the requisite consensus.

Compliance Brand

Moritz had some interesting advice for students. He said that “you’ve got to think about your personal brand differently. You have to take some risks.” To take risks, you have to be willing to go outside your comfort zone, such as Moritz did when he transferred to Japan. You also need to be willing to ask for advice and take coaching. Use the feedback that you receive and be willing to do something about it. He ended with the following, “And make sure you’ve got your elevator speech because you never know who you might see. How are you going to make the best first impression?”

For the compliance practitioner in a corporation, I think that many of us not only do not think of our personal brand, but also the compliance brand. So, personally and for your discipline, you should build up your network within an organization. Lastly, you should consider the effect of what you say and what you put out to the organization in the context of a compliance officer. If you travel, consider the effect of what you say outside the US in the context of you being a compliance officer. People will be listening to not only what you say but how you say it. If it’s the first time you meet someone, what will that person’s impression be not only of you but of compliance in your organization?

The leadership lessons that Bryant wrote about regarding Bob Moritz are some excellent ideas for the compliance practitioner to put into place. While you are contemplating the above, check out this YouTube clip of the Royal Guardsmen’s song Snoopy vs. The Red Baron.

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.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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Thomas Fox

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