On this date in 1929, Walter Chrysler was announced as Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. Chrysler was a seminal figure in the American automobile industry in the last century and in business leadership. He grew his company to become the second largest automobile manufacturer at one point during his tenure. He will also be remember for constructing one of the finest examples of art deco building architecture with the high rise which bears his name, the Chrysler Building.
Yet Chrysler did not begin in the auto industry but in the railroad industry. The son of a railroad engineer, Chrysler worked his way up in the railroad industry, from sweeper to machinist to plant manager of American Locomotive Company, before making his mark on the auto industry. He worked in a series of auto companies before reorganizing them into what became the Chrysler Corporation in 1925.
I thought about the story of Walter Chrysler and leadership in compliance when I read this week’s Corner Office column in the New York Times (NYT) where Adam Bryant profiled Ann Cairns, the President of International Markets at MasterCard, in “The Art and Science of Team Chemistry”. Cairns personal story and her thoughts on team building are quite useful for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner.
Cairns grew up in northeast England, where her father was a shoemaker. Yet she developed an interest in science at an early age and that led to her study of mathematics at university. Even with a mathematics degree, Cairns was intellectually curious and ended up working at British Gas, helping design research experiments. However she became more interested in offshore exploration. Though to do this work Cairns had to “pass a weeklong offshore survival course. The guy running it was an ex-Royal Marine. I was the only woman in the course, and he kept making me do everything first. After about the third day, I went up to him and said, “You know, I’m really fed up with this. What’s this all about?” I told him it felt like discrimination. He said, “No. You’re such a little girl that if you jump off the platform, all those 47 guys behind you who are terrified are going to say to themselves, ‘Look, she’s just done it.’”
This led to an important leadership insight for Cairn; by singling someone out and pushing them, you can push an entire group. You are not trying to embarrass someone but motivate them and use their experience to motivate a larger group. By treating Cairn in this way, the course instructor not only motivated her to give her best but also motivated the others by her leadership.
As a manager, Cairn found herself managing “about 50 engineers in my late 20s. It was comfortable for me, though. The thing about engineers is that they are people who are very expert at what they do, so you don’t have to know everything that they know. You just have to be somebody who can help build a team and put things together. And I was always pretty interested in understanding everybody’s specialization and how it all worked.”
While her intellectual curiosity was long held, this experience also points up to a larger truth for any CCO or compliance officer. The more you can know about the overall company operation, the more effective you can be as the company’s compliance leader. By putting it all together you can present accurate information to the senior management around risk and how to mitigate from the compliance perspective.
Cairns later moved into banking. Here she said she received very good reviews from everyone but her peers. She said, “It’s easy to be competitive with your peer group as you’re climbing up the ladder. But over time you realize that in order to make your group effective, you have to think in terms of being one team, and how can you make those relationships the best they can ever be. You’re not trying to compete now. You’re trying to really make this work. You see companies where people at that level are competing against each other, and then you see other companies where they’re not, and it makes quite a difference.”
Cairn also had some very good insights into team building. Obviously this is a key component of any CCO. She broke it down into several levels of analysis. The first is you need to consider “what each person will bring to the team, but you also have to think about them as individuals, and where they’re going from and to, because they’ve all got their own paths and things they want to achieve.”
Next you need to move to a group or team momentum and keep that momentum going forward. Cairn suggested that “reinforce what the good is, and you build mutual respect so that you don’t create a team of mediocre people who are all happy with each other and don’t challenge each other. You want people who can challenge each other without creating this peer problem of, “I don’t like you because you said such-and-such in the last meeting.” If you’re the boss of the team, you can stop that from happening without stopping the conversation flow.”
Cairn also spoke about having team members who are disruptive. She believes such members can be a source of strength if managed properly. She said, “I’ve had people work for me who are very creative or can be very disruptive, and sometimes they’re the same person. I’ve seen other people take them off teams because it’s just too hard to manage people in that situation. But my view is that if you can get the best out of people, then it’s worthwhile putting them on a team and making sure that everyone else on the team actually knows this person’s characteristics.”
Finally, Cairn spoke about creating an environment where team members can speak freely, without fear of retribution. She said, “The other thing that’s really important about building a team is that your team has got to respect you and they’ve got to feel safe. So you create that safe environment, and they’ve got to feel that you’re always acting in their interests.”
Creating the right team for compliance is a critical part of your success.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2016