Today, we continue our Sherlock Holmes week by drawing inspiration for lessons for the compliance practitioner from the story of Silver Blaze. In this story, a star racehorse disappears, Holmes pulls out his usual deductions to determine where the horse can be found but turns to the lack of an action to deduce why the horse was stolen. The lack of a dog bark in the horse’s stable tells Holmes that the thief was known to both the dog and to Silver Blaze.
I thought about the story of Silver Blaze when reading this week’s Corner Office column in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “Want to Succeed? Be Accountable”, by Adam Bryant, where he interviewed Noreen Beaman, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Brinker Capital. Beaman was the oldest of four sisters and this gave her an interesting perspective growing up. She said, “Part of it was having a feedback loop of younger sisters. We were close in age, so they were some of my best informants in high school. They would say: “Really? That wasn’t a great idea. Maybe if you stopped and listened, you would’ve heard what someone was saying.” Clearly she received feedback but it was from a source that she listened to when it provided to her.
After a flush of early success in her career as a company Chief Financial Officer (CFO) she moved into sales. She made a major mistake on a transaction that went sideways. As Beaman put it “I was in the penalty box.” But through hard work and determination, she overcame this error and learned from it. She said that the entire experience made her both more accessible and “it made me have more humility”.
One of the most interesting things that Beaman said was that one of her company’s mantras is “Find it, fix it and prevent it.” That seems to me to be a pretty good way for a compliance practitioner to look at things, particularly if you consider the FCPA Guidance formula of “prevention, detection and remediation” for a best practices anti-corruption compliance program. To facilitate this culture, Beaman said that one of the skills valued at Brinker Capital is accountability. She said, “We make sure everyone’s in a position to be successful. Then, when you’re not successful, we have to have a conversation. You need to hold up your end of the bargain. Sometimes you’re not a good culture fit because you don’t want to be held accountable, and sometimes you’re a great culture fit and we just didn’t give you the right training, so we’ll do that. Sometimes you’ll make a mistake. Life happens. But let’s not do it again.”
For the compliance practitioner, I think that Beaman’s example demonstrates the need for a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) to take the initiative in showing how the role they play inside the organization is far more than just a legal minimum or people-based risk management. A CCO, and indeed the entire compliance function, should be seen as a partner to the business folks. This will help to create the deeper relationships that will not only make it easier for the group to do its job, but also help it to be seen as a vital part of the organization’s long-term strategy. It will also help when there is something askance in the compliance function. As noted by Mike Volkov, in his blog post entitled “Chief Compliance Officers: Under a Microscope”, CCOs have to educate the Board and the C-Suite on what exactly is reasonable to expect and how the compliance program is designed to achieve these results. Along the way, CCOs have to make sure they can show that compliance is a valuable contributor to the company’s bottom line.
Beaman also said one thing that I have heard numerous CEOs say over the years, which is that one of the most important skills they have learned is listening. Beaman related “You have to be a little more indulgent with people sharing ideas around the table, even if 25 percent of them are distractions. C.E.O.’s are usually Type A’s to begin with, and I’m a little chatty. And now I’m in this room full of smart, dynamic people who all want to be heard. So what I had to learn is to be quiet, to listen, to keep everyone committed and at the table.”
As a hard charger, she does want to make decisions and move on. So she has to consciously slow herself down, “to really slow down and be present in the moment.” Part of this turns on setting “realistic expectations and goals, and be sensitive to the tempo around you. It’s about meeting people where they are as opposed to expecting people to meet you where you are. Everyone comes from a different point of view. I have a big personality and I know that I can come on a little strong, so a lot of times I’ll slow it down.”
Beaman also had some interesting thoughts on interviewing. She is clearly engaged by potential hires that are intellectually curious. One of the things that she considers is whether the interviewee has any questions for her. She said that “One, it tells me if you’ve prepped. Two, it tells me how interested you are.” A second thing that she inquires about what books they read. If they are not a book reader, she asks about magazines and newspapers. She related that “I’m interested to know how intellectually curious you are. In our world today, if you’re not actively learning every day, you really are not competitive. There’s too much going on. I can never know everything going on around me, so I need to know that there are people around me who are learning other things, so we create a more cohesive view.”
For the compliance professional out there interviewing, I found these last couple of points quite instructive. Many times it seems that there is so much information in the compliance field that it is difficult to keep up in our profession. But here, the CEO of a major corporation wants to see intellectual curiosity in candidates because she believes this will make a better employee.
Beaman’s journey certainly has been wide-ranging. I believe that her experience can assist the compliance practitioner with ways to think about his or her position within a company and how it can be executed. And just like in Silver Blaze, sometimes when nothing is said, it speaks louder than mere words…
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014