Three Compliance Interviews on April 3

by Thomas Fox

I attended the Dow Jones Global Compliance Symposium over the past couple of days. It was a great conference and kudos to the entire Dow Jones team for putting on a truly memorable event. Day 2 had some interesting speakers and I thought that I might highlight some of the note-worthy things that they said. I should initially note that they did not present prepared remarks but were interviewed by Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporters. Frustratingly, all three were very good at not answering some of the more pointed questions they were posed but they did have some thought-provoking answers to some of the questions posed to them.

Jeff Benjamin

Benjamin was retired and living in Cape Cod, when he was lured out of retirement to take over as the Senior Vice President (SVP) and General Counsel (GC) for Avon Products, Inc., in September of last year. He used this late entry into the company as a way not to answer questions about the ongoing investigation or the company’s amount of legal and investigative fees incurred to-date. He did answer a question generally around the company using two law firms which I found fascinating. He said that more law firms do not necessarily mean more lawyers working on an assignment or project. He said that by using two law firms, he can use “the best people in the best roles” rather than simply the best people. For all you Chief Compliance Officers (CCO’s) or GC’s out there you might want to think about that concept.

I was a bit frustrated that he was cut off when answering the question of his thoughts on what differentiated an elite compliance program from merely a functional one. The first point was that the compliance program seeks continual improvement. The second is that each of a company’s employees takes personal responsibility for establishing and retaining a culture of compliance and ethics in a company. I wish he had been able to give us the final two but he got side-tracked on another point.

I asked Benjamin the role that compliance plays in reconstituting employee morale after a catastrophic compliance failure that (apparently) occurred at Avon. Benjamin initially noted that he believes that the compliance function has a large role to play in rebuilding employee morale. He said a key for Avon was to look at the compliance failures and to use those as teaching moments for the work force. He coupled this with a very intensive construction of the compliance architecture for the company, communicated thoroughly to all employees. He ended with some out of the box thinking like bringing in Cynthia Cooper, the employee who blew the whistle at WorldCom, to speak to company employees on the need to ‘Speak Up and Speak Out’.

Gerson Zweifach

Zweifach is the General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer for News Corp. He is former federal prosecutor and holds himself very much with that bearing and demeanor. He was asked about his dual roles as GC and CCO and he said that given where the company is, in the middle of a multi-jurisdiction, multi-law investigation, he believed that combining both roles was appropriate, at least for the next couple of years. He also noted that he was told by the News Corp’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) that “I don’t want this to happen again” and he took that as another reason that the roles should be combined, at least for the foreseeable future.

Zweifach said the biggest change that he had to effect on the company was to elevate problems to the corporate headquarters, if they involved “the core integrity” of the company. News Corp is a very decentralized business with assets all over the world. Prior to their current legal imbroglio, they did not handle such problems in the US but Zweifach has learned that this must be done to help ensure that the company gets a full picture of the facts as soon as possible. Further, any core integrity issue can become global very quickly so there needs to be central management of this issue as soon as possible.

As a former prosecutor and white collar defense lawyer, he was not too familiar with the concept of risk assessments as a corporate tool, so he had a fair amount to learn on the subject. But he learned something very interesting and that was simply because a business is located in a high-risk country it may not be high risk. Conversely, simply because a business is in a perceived low risk country, such as the UK, the business may be high risk. I found this to be a very interesting insight and  something that Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance practitioners could consider when doing their overall risk assessments.

Alberto Gonzales

Gonzales is the former Attorney General of the United States and is currently Of Counsel to the law firm of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis LLP. Gonzales spoke about the FCPA and potential change of the law. Initially he noted that reform of the FCPA in Congress is dead, although he tried to blame it on the Democratic administration, forgetting perhaps that the greatest increase in FCPA enforcement occurred while he was Attorney General (oops!). But he did say that perhaps there could be some different interpretations by regulators, such as the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Leaving aside the subtle distinction that the DOJ are prosecutors and not regulators (oops again!) he said that he believed business groups were right to continue to clamor for additional FCPA guidance, as he clearly demeaned the November-released FCPA Guidance as “so-called guidance”.

He also said that greater transparency would be of assistance to the compliance practitioner and here he talked about further information on declinations. He said that he believed the DOJ could strip out the indemnity markers but the key information would be for the DOJ to itemize the information which went into their decision making calculus as to why a declination was granted as opposed to an enforcement action. This is certainly something that I do agree with Gonzales on.

The Dow Jones Global Compliance Symposium continues to be one of the premier compliance events annually. If you did not attend this year and can do so next year, I urge you to try and get yourself up to DC for the conference.

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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