We recently lost some legendary musicians. Last week two of the biggest from very different genres left us. They were Scotty Moore and Dr. Ralph Stanley. Today I want to pay tribute to Scotty Moore, recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as the 29th greatest guitarist in its Top 100 ranking. As noted in his obituary in the New York Times (NYT), Moore, was “a guitarist whose terse, bluesy licks on Elvis Presley’s early hits virtually created the rockabilly guitar style and established the guitar as a lead instrument in rock ’n’ roll.” He was recording at the legendary Sun Studios, owned by Sam Phillips, in 1954 when Phillips asked him to audition a young singer, who turned out to be Elvis Presley.
While Moore was in many ways the older brother Presley never had, his playing style with Presley was inspired. Quoted in the obituary, Moore said, ““I tried to play around the singer. If Elvis was singing a song a certain way, there was no point in me trying to top him on what he just did. The idea was to play something that went the other way — a counterpoint.”” In its Top 100 ranking Rolling Stone said, “If Moore had done nothing but the 18 Sun recordings — including ‘Mystery Train’ and ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ — his place in history would be assured. But he continued to play with Elvis, contributing the scorching solos to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Hound Dog.’” Yet, Keith Richard may have paid Moore the ultimate tribute when he said, “Everyone else wanted to be Elvis, I wanted to be Scotty.”
I thought about Moore and the unique sound he created when I read a recent article in the Corner Office column of the NYT, where Adam Bryant interviewed Drew Houston, Chief executive of Dropbox, in an article entitled “Figure Out Things You Don’t Know”. His thoughts around the topic of not knowing what you don’t know are certainly appropriate for a Chief Compliance Office (CCO) or compliance practitioner.
While it may appear to be inconsistent to state that CCO’s must have subject matter expertise while recognizing they do not know everything; self-awareness mandates that you do not know what you do not know. Indeed Houston believes this is an important first step for any leader. He said that one of his early leadership lessons was, “The first thing is having a healthy paranoia for trying to find out what you don’t know that you don’t know. The question I would ask myself — even in the beginning, and I still do today — is, six months from now, 12 months from now, five years from now, what will I wish I had been doing today or learning today?” I think that the key lesson here is that curiosity did not kill the cat but actually made it into a better leader.
Houston also had some interesting thoughts around corporate culture, its creation and maintenance. As Dropbox was a start up, its culture was “sort of bizarre average of the founders’ personalities.” However, as the company grew, Houston recognized the need to formalize the culture. He noted, “a couple of years ago, we decided to define our values and make our culture explicit.” The company recognized that it needed to consider its priorities and then sustain them in the long run. He said, “There are a lot of ways to think about it, but one of them is, how do you build something that sustains excellence over a long period of time? Or to put it another way, it seems that most companies, most organisms, decay as they get older and bigger, and so how do you inoculate your company from the most common things that tend to go wrong?”
To design the corporate culture, he and his team “approached it as kind of an engineering problem — what is the opposite of each of those things? We came up with five: Be worthy of trust; sweat the details; aim higher; “we,” not “I”; and the fifth is just an image of a smiling cupcake, because we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously.” This point would seem to be the feedback loop on any culture regime.
Most interestingly I found Houston’s advice to the MIT (his alma mater) 2013 graduating class to be appropriate for any person in the compliance profession. He said that every person should have three things to consider going forward; a tennis ball, a circle and the number 30,000.
First, the tennis ball “is about finding the thing you’re obsessed with. The most successful people and successful entrepreneurs I know are all obsessed with solving a problem that really matters to them. I use the tennis ball for that idea because of my dog, who gets this crazy, obsessed look on her face when you throw the ball for her.” Most compliance practitioners I know are passionate about our profession. Clearly some folks are simply passing through but they are in the minority. If you, like me, feel that the compliance profession gives you the best platform for doing the most good in the corporate world, this is a good thing. From the compliance department, you can not only help increase profitability but can do so in a manner that pushes the ball of doing good forward.
I found his second point on the circle enlightening. Houston said, “The circle is really about the idea that you’re the average of your five closest friends, so make sure to put yourself in an environment that pulls the best out of you.” As a leader, you are exponentially better if you have top-notch talent around you because they will make you perform better. In the corporate world, if you hire the best talent into your department, train them up and then turn them loose, the results can be nothing short of amazing. I can think of no better a corporate example of this than the CCO at Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI), Jay Martin, who has utilized this approach in his over ten-year tenure at BHI.
Finally are Houston’s thoughts on “the number 30,000.” He said, “When I was 24, I came across this website that says most people live for about 30,000 days. So you have to make every day count.” Everyday in compliance, do something to make your program a little better. While you are doing that, go ahead and document it so that when a regulator comes knocking you can demonstrate it.
Every person should have 3 things to consider going forward; a tennis ball, a circle and the number 30,000.Click to tweet
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2016